Monday, November 29, 2010

The Colour by Rose Tremain

Challenge 10: Become A Character

Challenge Description: For this challenge, you can read any book you want. However, you have to write about the book as one of the characters from the book. The character can comment on his/her treatment by the author, other characters, the “untold story,” what happened next, and so forth. You could even have two characters interviewing each other! Your imagination is the only limit. Because of the difficulty level of this challenge, it is worth two entries.

The Colour by Rose Tremain

It's been many years since I returned to China......home to my wife and son, but some things never change and I have always liked solitude. I like to sit beside the shore of Heron Lake and listen to the green frogs gurgling and watch the water buffalo in the fields.
Old man's dreaming.
Old man's memories.
Sometimes my beloved grandchildren and their friends gather by my knees....."Tell us a story, Grandpa" they cry...

and I tell them tales of long ago........of the time when I was young and went off to seek my fortune. Across the seas to that distant and beautiful land , to the goldfields of New Zealand.  I tell of the mountains and rivers, the seashore and the bush........and stories of adventure and exploring.........but there are many things I cannot tell them for they would not understand how it it is when you are different.

My name is Chen Pao Yi .........they called me Jen or Scurvy Jen, Johnny Chinaman, a Chinky. Those rough, discourteous white men who rushed to the goldfields in droves, greed in their hearts for the colour and contempt in their eyes for the 'yellow man' who sold them vegetables. For that is what I did........I went to New Zealand in the hope I could make enough money to return to China and build a better life for the wife and son I left behind. A year in Otago and then to Hokitika, to the Kaniere field ,and planted my garden away from but within walking distance of the camp. I didn't go looking for gold but I found it.
As big as my thumb it was.
Lying there under the seventeenth spring onion.
I hid it carefully.

Old man's memories.
In the quiet moment..
Hal-Yet. she would laugh at my inability to pronounce her name. No place for a woman on the goldfields, not even one as strong and courageous as my Hal-Yet. She came because she had to , looking for the husband she never loved to tell him of his mother's death. And that man sent her upriver, secretly ,to look for the colour alone , across the river from my garden, and she would come and buy from me.

Then the fresh came.........that sudden deluge of water down from the hills, destroying everything in its path.
I found her half drowned in my fishing net and took her back to the cave, tended to her until she was well.
And she stayed.
And we loved each other through the long winter...............knowing that our time together would be short, knowing that the world would disapprove and would attempt to destroy our love........and knowing I must go back to my wife and son.
When we found the colour we knew the time had come to say goodbye.

I think of my Hal-Yet dreaming like myself, on the verandah of the home I know she would have built back in Canterbury. and I wonder.....
Does she remember?


I love Rose Tremain's writing and The Colour was special for me because it is about New Zealand and the history surrounding the early settlement of Canterbury and West Coast goldmining in the 1860's. It always makes a difference when you're familiar with the actual places an author is writing about.
The Colour is the story of Joseph and Harriet Blackstone who emigrate from England in search of a new life as pioneers in Canterbury. Then Joseph becomes obsessed with making it rich on the goldfields.

I chose Chen Pao Yi as my character because he represents the non-European immigrant. Many thousands of Chinese came to the goldfields and there was great deal of racial tension between them and the European.
Much of it due to the usual cultural misunderstandings but also the diggers were resentful that the Chinese often preferred to make their 'fortune' by providing a necessary service as Chen Pao Yi does by growing and selling vegetables.

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