Rumer Godden’s Fu-Dog
Book review by Monica Friedman
Chinese-English Children Go on a Magical Family Adventure with a Talking Doll
Malcolm and Li-la’s “family was not quite the same as the families of other children in St. Mary’s Green, the quiet little village in Devon where they lived,” because their Mum’s mother was Chinese.
Since she and the children’s mum both married Englishmen, Li-la and Malcolm are one-quarter Chinese. While most of the family looks quite English, little Li-la evidences an eastern expression of genes: her “hair was black…her black eyes were slant and her skin was like a white-heart cherry that has a tinge of yellow in its pink.”
Li-la loves her looks and is enamored with her heritage. Every year on her birthday, her Great Uncle sends her a Chinese curio: “a model of a Chinese town,” a tree of gold, an ivory statue carved to look like a Mandarin. This year, Li-la receives the Fu-dog, a little doll “made of green satin with golden flowers,” eyes of pearl, long teeth and horns, edged with white fur. Mum explains that “Long long ago in China, Fu-dogs used to guard the temples and palaces,” and Li-la thinks Fu-dog is beautiful, but Malcolm finds him hideous.
Li-la and Malcolm have little contact with the Chinese side of their family. Their father finds them, “too pernickity,” while they find Dad “too rough and ready,” so Mum hasn’t seen her brother since her wedding, and even the generous Great Uncle has not visited since Li-la’s christening. They don’t even eat all the lovely food Mum ate as a child, because, “Dad doesn’t like Chinese food.” Li-la is understandably interested in her unexamined heritage and begins to ask more questions, inspired by Fu-dog, “the best present of all.”
“I wish you were real,” she tells the doll.
“I am real,” the doll answers. “I have been real for more than two thousand years.”
“Crikey!” Li-la responds. “I’ve only been real for seven.”
And Fu-dog does seem to be real. While Mum is willing to dish on the details of Chinese history, Fu-dog is also a wealth of knowledge, telling Li-la about Empresses and Peking dogs. When her curiosity becomes too great, Fu-dog promises to take Li-la to London Chinatown to meet Great Uncle.
Dragging along her brother, who doesn’t want to go to Chinatown, but “wouldn’t mind going to London,” and whose knowledge of the railway map, not to mention the money in his piggy bank, are invaluable to the expedition, Li-la and Fu-dog make the journey and eventually, after some mishaps, end up at the family’s restaurant on a most auspicious day: Chinese New Year.
So Li-la and Malcolm still have some adventures, excitement, and cultural education ahead of them.
Fu-Dog is formatted like a picture book, and does have some charming illustrations, but it reads more like a chapter book, with a great deal of text, divided into six sections. There is a gentle current of kindness, magic, and mishap in the story, creating a fairy tale atmosphere in twentieth-century England. While there is peril, fear, and uncertainty, there is also a magical happy ending with enough joy and familial goodwill to satisfy the most romantic reader.
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