Monday, November 02, 2009

Bound by Donna Jo Napoli

This Cinderella story, based on Chinese tales, with some Grimm tossed in, takes place in China during the Ming period. I felt the story was fast-paced and gave the reader an intriguing insight into the culture and life of the Chinese (especially the women) during this period. I think it would be a great book for Global I students. I have read that Napoli does an excellent job researching time periods for her historical fiction books...I believe this book accurately depicts the period, but perhaps a global teacher could comment?

Having said that, I felt there were places where Napoli leaves us hanging and I don't think she does a good job of weaving all her threads together at the end of the book. And parts seem somewhat trite- like the relationship between Xing Xing and her sister. At first her sister despises Xing Xing and then they end up friends??? Maybe I was expecting it to follow the traditional Cinderella pattern! I did however, like the themes and symbolism of the book. The themes of love, freedom, human rights, captivity, etc...are multi layered, and the symbolism of being bound is powerful. Although Xing Xing's feet aren't bound as her sisters are, she is still bound to a life of servitude. I thought all of these aspects would lend to this being a great book for discussion.

I was also intrigued with the ending- how Xing Xing tells the prince that she doesn't want to be bought or sold, that she can read and write, that her feet are not bound, and she has no dowry. Not too bad for a girl who is "hardly more than a slave."

Overall, I thought the strongest part of this book was the cultural insight the reader gains about this period of Chinese history. Looking forward to reading your comments!

13 comments:

Cherie said...

I had high hopes for the book "Bound" and was hoping that the book would provide some more insight into the ancient practice of foot binding. While the book didn't meet my expectations in that area, I, like Kathy, did like the symbolism of how Xing Xing was "bound" to her servant life and cruel family. I have to admit as I read the book I was hoping that Xing Xing could become friends with her half sister and that the mother would get what was coming to her! I also was so angered with the death of the fish (spirit of Xing Xing's mother) I wanted that fish to survive so that one aspect of Xing Xing's life was positive!

I feel that this book would be a good read for Global students. They could connect with the Cinderella story in our culture and the book would allow them an inside look at a different version of the same story while integrating Chinese cultural values as well.

Dawn said...

I am not sure how I feel about this book. It was clear right from the start that this was a Cinderella story; however, I felt like it was introduced as a Cinderella story and then lost the point up until the end of the book (chapter 25 or so).
While reading, I wanted more information on the history of China. I have seen pictures of woman who have had their feet bound, but I didn’t know the purpose of it or what they had to go through to get their feet so small. I am not sure what age group I would recommend this book to because of the information that Maria Shea looked up and shared with me. It sounds as if the purpose of doing this is all sexual, which makes me think I need to read this with an older group of students. The book I had borrowed was from the middle school, and I do not know if I could tackle the subject with them at that age.
As for characters, I felt badly for Xing Xing because she lost her mother and father. I was glad she had poetry and calligraphy to turn to as an escape for her. Stepmother was just horrible. When she killed the fish, I was shocked. I knew she was capable of that, but I was not expecting it at that time. I knew something would happen to the fish eventually, but I was surprised when it ended up dinner.
There were a few times in the book that I felt like I needed more information or felt like a topic was just dropped. For example, where did Yao Wang go? What did the “medicine” actually do for Wei Ping’s feet? How did Xing Xing stumble upon her mother’s things so much later in life? Why didn’t her father tell her about the things when he was dying like the mother’s letter said? Many questions….

Maria said...

I had mixed feelings about Bound by Donna Jo Napoli. I enjoyed the Cinderella story lines, as I enjoy a happy ending. I also enjoyed the cultural aspects of the book which made the story line feel authentic. However, some of the story lines just ended. They seemed under developed or just forgotten. Yes, the stepmother was mean, as expected. Yes, there was a stepsister. Yes, Xing Xing was expected to do all of the hard work…but a relationship began between the sisters, Xing Xing and Wei Ping, which all of a sudden ended to fit the Cinderella story guide lines. The doctor just left, the relationship with the town friends, Master Tang and Mei Zi, went nowhere, her poetry and calligraphy had no major impact on the plot…there just seemed to be a lack of flow in the story line. It seemed a bit forced to fir the Cinderella mold. I do like how the Chinese cultural aspects were woven throughout the story – foot binding, the ancestral support, the art of poetry and calligraphy, the spirit of the family, the role of women, the use of a medicine man and acupuncture, etc., made the story culturally rich and more interesting.

Kim Seeley said...

I read this book in one day! It took me a few chapters to get into it, but once I got into it I had to keep reading. I LOVED it………. until the end! I really think that Napoli had a good story line when she conveyed the “ugly step sister” compared to Wei Ping. I loved how the animals she found brought them closer for a period of time, especially the step-sisters. I really didn’t know that people bound their feet so that was bit horrifying to me. When the raccoon bit the toes off I wanted to throw up! But, it drew me that much more into the book. Then it took a turn, I could totally see through the whole carp and that the step mother was going to kill it. I also hated how predictable the ending was, the Prince rides in and saves the day! I felt like it just ended. Some of the character development was weak as well. Overall, on a scale of one to ten, I would give it a five. I was very disappointed at the end.

Lisa said...

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Lisa said...

I think the book started out slowly but about half way through, I couldn't put it down!! I knew Stepmother was going to do something to the fish...that was obvious. I did like how Napoli incorporated the spirits throughout the novel. Xing Xing was very strong due to her cultural beliefs. Had it not been for the spirits of her parents, I don't think she would've been the same. Yes, the storyline was typical Cinderella, but the ending was a bit much to me. Xing Xing was very forthright with her demands of the marriage. Although id did feel badly for Wei Ping, I was happy to see that Xing Xing was finally rescued. I too felt that there were many parts fo the book that ended abruptly. I actually thought the Dr. was going to "save" Xing Xing. I also feel Napoli was creative with the way she incorporated Chinese culture into this novel. I could see myself using this with my 15:1 students. I also agree with Cherie~that this would be great for Global students.

cvanslyk said...

When I started this book, I could not put it down. It was an easy and fast read which would appeal to many of my students. I wish there had been more Chinese history included but there was enough with the bound feet to stimulate class discussion and research into Chinese culture and traditions.
The part where Stepmother killed the fish was symbolic but too cruel. I kept wanting to see something good about the woman but this was just totally evil and difficult to believe. The Cinderella ending surprised me as well. I guess I would have been more interested in learning about Chinese culture, philosophies and tradition instead of another fairy tale. I usually love historical fiction books but this book got more into fantasy. The description of Wei Ping's bound feet was rather sickening as was the story about the raccoon biting off a toe and then Stepmother cutting another one off with a cleaver. This whole tradition seems rediculous. How could these girls ever walk normally again or even survive the infections caused by bound feet. This was definitely a book that holds your interest and would be very useful for students who are working on improving comprehension skills. I think girls especially would be interested it.

Erika said...

"Bound" was a quick read on a road trip this weekend that grabbed my attention right way. I was hooked and couldn't put it down.

There were many parts that created such emotion for me. Many of you predicted the mother doing something to the fish ahead of time and I am not sure why I didn't, but I missed it and was shocked, gasping and so angry at the terrible step-mother. I was just appalled at how the step-mother treated Xing Xing. She was never called her real name, only "lazy one" except once in the whole story. I was disgusted with the mother for using the meat cleaver to cut off her toes. I was frustrated with the father for not sharing the letter with Xing Xing before he passed away, but I was so excited that she found it, especially after her fish mother had died. It was a piece of her mother that she still had. It is hard to understand why Xing Xing returned to the cave after the party. She was free, away from them, but was still bound to them for some reason. I greatly disliked and was annoyed with the ending of the book, but despite that it was a good read that could evoke a lot of great discussion about culture, values, loyalty, respect, being true to yourself and caring about simple things.

ksalecki said...

As many of you mentioned, I had mixed feelings about this book. I guess, looking at it from the Global Studies perspective I might have been too critical. I agree with Charlene- it was too fairytale and not enough reality.
It did bring in some important concepts from Chinese history such as the influence of Confucius on Chinese culture and in government (discusses filial piety- the idea of respecting your elders and ancestors, and the civil service exam, which allowed commoners to rise in rank and social status through education). Unfortunately, some of these most important historical concepts are only mentioned in passing and would only be picked out by someone specifically looking for them. These connections to history are lost behind the idea that a Chinese peasant girl could have time to learn to read and write calligraphy and would be able to speak so boldly to not only a man, but royalty.
The Ming Dynasty does open up China to more "Western" ways of thinking, but I found Xing-Xing's freedom of thought and expression to be over-the-top and unrealistic- particularly the ending.
I think I am especially critical because I recently read another historical fiction about China that was much less fairytale and much more reality, yet still told an excellent story about a young girl growing up in China. It also does a much better job describing the foot binding in which you still cringe without the added drama of a raccoon biting off the toe and the mother taking a cleaver to the other one. If anyone is interested, the book is called Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See.
All-in-all, I would recommend this book to my Global Students for an independent extra credit project but I would want to be sure they had some strict guidelines as to specific historical concepts that they need to be looking for as they read.

Kathy J. said...

I'm with Erica, I did not see the episode with stepmother and the fish coming at all.

I noticed a few mentioned the part when the racoon bites off the toes of the stepsister. I don't know if you are familiar with the real Cinderella story by the Grimm Brothers, but there is a part in this story (pre-Disney) in which the stepsisters cut off their toes and heels trying to get the glass slipper to fit them. It is pretty gross as well. I guess this opens the discussion of the spread of fairy tales across cultures...if these stories have been around for generations, did the Grimm boys "borrow" them? Should they not be credited with the origination of these tales? Food for thought.

Also, it was great to get a global teachers perspective of the story. Thanks Kathy.

rebeccakryger said...

I’m not sure how I feel about this book. Initially, I liked following Xing Xing’s struggle to find a place in a home with a mother and sister who don’t show her any affection. I thought Xing Xing’s character was well-developed, and I like that she was honest with herself about how innocent and perhaps gullible she often was in terms of hoping to gain her step-mother’s attention. The insights into her culture were also interesting—how she talked to the spirit of her father and mother and her responsibility to “take care” of them. I was horrified by her step-mother’s treatment of Xing Xing, especially when she kills the fish. It was nice that Xing Xing found her mother’s possessions in the storage room, and I was glad that Xing Xing found a happy ending although I didn’t love the Cinderella ending. I didn’t really buy into how the prince found Xing Xing because it says he heard she was the most beautiful girl at the festival, yet we’re also supposed to believe that he likes her for who she is. It seemed forced that the author tried to portray her as a strong woman but she marries the prince without even knowing him. This story was a lot like Yeh Shen, a Chinese short story version of Cinderella. Overall, I think this was an easy read, and I might recommend it to a student who is looking for an easy read.

Wendy said...

I loved the way this book explored a different culture's interpretation of a common tale. I plan on reading "Bound" to my Global class and look forward to the discussion of the differences between our culture and that of Xing Xing's. I had a hard time with her mother as a carp. We have large beautiful carp in our pond but they are still fish.

Wendy said...

I loved this book as an introduction to Chinese culture through a familiar story. I would use it in my Global class. It shows a different interpretation and I could build on the similarities and differences. I think the writing is simple enough for my lower readers to understand. Thank you for introducing this book.