Four stars, read in December 2015.
How can I use a word like “good” to describe these books, when everything inside them is so horrifying? And when I can feel elements of sympathy for all the different viewpoints represented, but there are none that aren’t also responsible for committing terrible atrocities? I feel like the best word I can use is “skillful,” which it absolutely is.
Yang brings an amazing intimacy and perspective to a comprehensively tragic part of history. When you pick them up, you’ll notice that Boxers is bigger than Saints; most of the story develops initially in the first book, and then the second book fills in the gaps with a different perspective. If you pay attention, you’ll see brief crossovers in Saints, moments in which the characters from each book brush against each other before their paths part so disastrously. These just emphasize that intimacy to me, and the tragedy—the ease with which people designate someone “the other,” regardless of how similar they actually are, and the cruelties that always follow.