The Plot: Saints traces the story of a young girl from the age of 8 to 15; part of her story overlaps with that of Bao from Boxers. Saints is not so much the story from the “other side” of the Boxer Rebellion. It’s not the armies or groups of foreigners; no, rather, it’s the story of why someone would embrace the “foreign” religion of Christianity, and risk death for it.
Four-girl’s story isn’t framed by locations or years; it’s simply her age. 8, 9, 14, 15. She is her mother’s only surviving child; she is not given a name; her father’s family has money but it’s not spent on her. Neither is any affection. Her name illustrates that she was her mother’s fourth daughter; four also means death. In short, she is neither wanted nor loved.
Four-girl first seeks out Christians and Christianity for simple reasons. If she is to be viewed as worthless by her family, why not become a devil? And who do her people call devils? The Christians. So become a devil! Also, they have cookies.
As Four-girl becomes older, she is baptized and takes the name Vibiana. She wants to be brave and strong, like Joan of Arc, but she’s not quite sure how to do it.
Vibiana is there, with the others, when the Boxers attack. Renounce your faith, she is told, and she will live.
The Good: Vibiana views her childhood as one of neglect, of dislike, and it is true — she isn’t treated well. Her father died before she was born, her grandfather couldn’t be bothered to even give her a name.
Why not go to the Christians? Why not seek solace in that religion, because she sure isn’t getting any from her family. Along the way, she has visions: from early childhood she sees Joan of Arc and talks with her. Joan gives her hope and faith and something to believe in. When Vibiana’s family beats her for being baptized, she runs away to the Christians.
That her family is not heartless is hinted at: her mother has her own story, one of marrying a young man viewed as damaged by his family, and she is viewed as not being good enough for the family she married into. She can barely tell her own daughter she loves her. When Vibiana’s cousin, whom she adores, meets up with her during the Boxer Rebellion, he is happy to see her. Still, he cannot understand why she simply doesn’t stop being Christian and come home.
Vibiana loves her country; want to do something special, be something special, like Joan of Arc was to France. When she learns more about the Boxer Rebellion she questions herself: what is the best thing to do?
It’s the Boxer Rebellion. She’s a Christian. She’s talking to Joan of Arc. And, if you’ve read the books in order, you know what happens to Vibiana. But, more on that later in a post that talks about both books. For now: Vibiana’s fate is written from before the book begins. The question in Saints is not so much what will become of Vibiana, but why. And the why is that Christianity gives her something that she cannot get elsewhere.