Last night I finished a book entitled, "Cinnabar" by Robert B. Oxnam (1989). It was on my long list of books to read. My mother gave it to me on my birthday a year ago, so it was about time I picked it up.
The book centers around a mysterious lacquer puzzle box made out of cinnabar. On top of the box is a Chinese character "Dream". It's rumoured to hold the key to a a priceless collection of Chinese art. The box begins in Boxer China with a father gifting it to his son, wishing for him to be filial. The box is passed down again and again until it ends up in the hands of an American professor and marathon runner named Roger.
Roger spends the rest of his time chasing the "dream". This takes him through a whirlwind of danger and a long adventure trying to find the collection. Through the turmoil and grief he ends up finding more.
On his journey to discovering the true meaning of the box, Roger meets Christina, a Chinese calligrapher. Through an unpredictable series of events Roger ends up moving to Taipei to live with Christina's father. In order to protect himself and the family, he's forced to transform into a different person by literally adopting a new identity.
"Cinnabar" is a great book, filled with fascinating details about Chinese history, philosophy and politics. In large part this is a political book that examines the many revolutions and political turmoil. There's a large focus on Tiananmen Square and the brave protestors that suffered an unjust death. The author chooses to write into the future, predicting an optimistic outcome for China. Unfortunately for the author his optimistic prediction does not occur in reality.
I enjoyed the book but in my opinion I would have preferred to read a book about China from a Chinese author. The author's opinions are valid but to me the story felt less genuine. His biases were made clear and I was tempted to believe that the main character, Roger, is probably very similar to Robert B. Oxnam. This has been said before but I think it remains true, a book reveals a lot about its author. All in all, it was a good read.
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