Dragon Springs Road

Written by Janie Chang
Review by Cynthia Slocum

Left to fend for herself until her mother returns, seven-year-old Jialing stays hidden in the

Western Residence, a dilapidated wing of a centuries-old rural estate not far from Shanghai, and occasionally peeks over the wall of the courtyard at the outside world on Dragon Springs Road. She has no idea how completely her life is about to change. Before going away, her mother prayed at the altar of a Fox spirit in their secluded dwelling, soft prayers that Jialing didn’t quite hear. Days later, when she fears her mother is not coming back, the Fox spirit appears in animal form to guide and protect her.

Taking place from 1908 to 1920, the story reflects an era of major social and political upheaval in China. Its protagonist, an illegitimate Eurasian girl, finds herself shunned by most Chinese and generally unaccepted among the foreigners who have flooded into Shanghai. She must adapt to being a bond-servant, until the opportunity suddenly arises to attend a Christian missionary school for orphans.

Via the Fox character’s mystical abilities and point of view, Jialing and the reader gain a window into rich folklore and glimpse life in earlier centuries on Dragon Springs Road, as well as vistas of other regions in China during the book’s time period. Fox, however, will not respond to Jialing’s abiding questions about why she was abandoned and what became of her mother. After graduation, Jialing’s plans go awry, and her search to find her mother appears fruitless. She unwittingly has an encounter with political intrigue that puts her life in jeopardy. And on the verge of losing Fox’s protection, she makes a crucial choice.

This novel melds history, fiction, and fantasy into a very engaging tale.