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Friday, November 6, 2009

Spinning the Baiji by Nancy A. Lindley-Gauthier

Spinning the Baiji by Nancy A. Lindley-Gauthier
Publisher: The Wild Rose Press
Genre: Contemporary, Fantasy, Young Adult
Length: Short (46 pages)
Heat: Sweet
Rating: 3.5 Books
Reviewed by Asphodel

Lin Li has no memory of a time before she loved SunLee. He is an old-fashioned sort of man, practicing tai chi and communing with the river creatures as in times of old. She knows he is promised to another, still, she secretly shares his dawns. She wishes to stop time and stay forever on the leaf-spattered trail where their lives entwine.

The day approaches when the mighty Yangtze River’s current will still, and the finest things in her life must end. Her love for SunLee, like the unimaginable beauty of the Yangtze lotus, will fall away to no more than myth. Sorrow brings her the last of the baiji. The magic of the white river dolphin offers her a lyrical world of love, but perhaps, not her one love.
For Lin, the trappings of a modern world stifle the yearning she feels for tradition and the old days she's only heard of in stories. Watching her neighbor SunLee practice the secret Tai- Chai Chuan moves of his family each morning, Lin begins to think that a kindred spirit is in him. The reality of the modern world encroaching upon the traditions and way of life the villagers have lived through for generations paints a gray future for her.

Spinning the Baiji is an odd combination of being deeply rooted in Chinese traditions, but also exploring how 'modern conveniences' have changed lives in the smaller villages away from the big cities. Lin's family expects great things of her, as her grandmother Golden Lotus says "Her gift of mathematical magic" will land her a good job in Wuhan. Away from the village and the slowly wilting beauty of generations past.

The writing style is lyrical, each scene flowing into the next as if its the very myth that several of the characters fear the Baiji will become. There's a vagueness to the characterizations and the situation as a whole, preferring to remain focused on Lin and SunLee, offering a name only to one other character. I was enchanted throughout the story, filled with a tense anticipation to find out where everything was going.

There were a couple of sour notes however. Lin's full name changes spellings at least twice in the story and the end is almost not an ending. Everything comes to a head and Lin is given a choice--tradition (and risk everything) or what her hearts tells her should be so (and risk a different sort of everything). How she chooses though, is not fully given. I can guess, given the last sentence, but there doesn't seem ample justification for the action. In fact the justification was pointing the other way the entire time, so I can't believe it almost.

Elegant in its descriptions of when the old ways and the new times clash, Spinning the Baiji delighted me with its Asian flair and a main character who lived to save the past, but found herself torn in modern times.