Box Kite is a collection of “proto-stories, […] essays, memoirs, or prose poems” by Baziju, the collected voice of Roo Borson and Kim Maltman. The book’s richly descriptive prose acts as a kind of travel journal, drawing on experiences of Toronto, Australia, and—most prominently—China.
Perhaps the most memorable aspect of Box Kite is the idea of Baziju itself. As described in the collection’s titular prose poem, “Baziju is a vessel for shared experiences.” Shared actions, interests, and languages support human connections throughout Box Kite: practising Mandarin and eating dumplings sparks nostalgia between the speaker and the server in “The Snow Cabbages of Harbin,” a chance encounter with a stranger becomes a friendship upon the discovery that both speak Mandarin in “Yuanfen,” and a visit to a region loved by a friend prompts the buying of a gift in “Ba Gua: The Eight Trigrams.” There is an intimacy to these connections, and by inviting readers into these stories, Box Kite creates yet another layer of shared experience.
Evident throughout the text is the authors’ respect for Chinese language and culture. The use of Mandarin words and allusions to China’s history and literary figures are prevalent throughout the collection. For example, in “XishiDoufu,” ordering a hot meal causes contemplation of the historical Xishi, a “legendary beauty of the Warring States period,” and of a novel by Chinese writer Gu Hua. These references help connect story to setting and provide a feeling of authenticity. While the closing notes offer definitions and explanations enough to prevent any serious detraction or feelings of deficiency, some knowledge of Chinese culture may enhance reading.
Within the individual pieces of this collection, simple actions like walking, eating, or shopping become the basis for recollection and thought. Whether referring to the speaker’s location or imagined places, Box Kite’s settings—from Taiwanese temples to Toronto bagel shops—are described with vivid prose. Readers with wanderlust may find themselves imagining their own desired travels instead of paying attention to the text that follows. However, aside from slowing the reading process a bit, there’s no real harm in this kind of aspiration.
The detailed descriptions in the collection are complemented by black and white photos from the authors’ travels. These are a nice touch that add to the personal feel and travel journal esthetic of the collection. However, while black and white printing ensures the photos do not draw attention away from the writing itself, some photos are a bit dark to appreciate the details and I can’t help but wonder if some would not have been improved with colour. Still, the combination of prose and photos further allows readers to immerse themselves within the words and worlds of Box Kite.
In “Lu Xun’s Desk,” Baziju describes a pressure to write thoughts down “as though merely by writing something down, something more might be accomplished.” Box Kite accomplishes much more than ink on a page; it fills the mind of the reader, creating something tangible that lingers in the mind after the pages are set aside.
Emily Stewart is a wanna-be everything and an actual freelance writer and editor. She currently writes about book news for Women Write About Comics, acts as a digital content coordinator and publishing assistant for Common Deer Press, and volunteers with Editors Canada. When not at a keyboard, she’s usually reading CanLit, YA, or SFF, trying to be artistic, or daydreaming about travel. Find her online at emilystewart.ca or on Twitter @emstewart041.
ARC HITS THE HEART HARD.