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Fox Spirit on a Distant Cloud by Lee Murray

Lee Murray's work, Fox Spirit on a Distant Cloud, is a haunting and sublime bringing together of biography, mythology, and poetic prose. Interweaving the tragic tales of Chinese diasporic women in Aotearoa with the ancient legend of the nine-tailed fox spirit, this genre-defying book illuminates the shadows of our history and the silenced voices that call out from the margins.

Blending fact and fable, Murray inhabits the lives of her characters - women who came to New Zealand seeking a new life, only to be met with isolation, prejudice, and untold suffering. We meet a sixty-year-old woman who hangs herself in a Wellington scullery, a Taranaki woman who plummets from a second-floor window, and a Taumarunui mother who violently takes the life of her newborn. These haunting vignettes, grounded in real historical events, are elevated by Murray's masterful manipulation of language and symbolism.

The mythical nine-tailed fox spirit, or húli jīng, serves as the ethereal narrator, a shapeshifting entity that bears witness to the plight of these women. As the fox spirit searches for ascension to its celestial form, it channels the voices of the forgotten, weaving a tapestry of sorrow, longing, and the eternal human struggle to belong. In Murray's sumptuous prose, English, te reo Māori, and Mandarin Chinese coalesce, creating a rich and immersive reading experience.

The settings of Aotearoa, so often portrayed as a land of natural splendour, take on a more ominous and savage quality in "Fox Spirit on a Distant Cloud." Murray's evocative descriptions of the land and townscapes become characters in their own right, mirroring the brutal realities faced by her protagonists. From the "savagery" of the New Zealand landscape to the "shadowlands of our history," the author confronts the reader with the harsh truths that lurk beneath the surface of our national identity.

Transcending the confines of genre, Fox Spirit on a Distant Cloud is a work of staggering originality and emotional power. Murray's juxtaposition of biography and mythology, of the human and the supernatural, challenges the reader to confront the silences and forgotten narratives that haunt our collective consciousness. This is a book that demands to be read, not just for its literary merit, but for its ability to illuminate the marginalised experiences that have long been obscured from our view.

In the hands of a lesser writer, such a blend of elements might have resulted in an uneven or disjointed work. But Murray's masterful command of language and her keen eye for detail ensure that each narrative thread is woven seamlessly into a tapestry of profound emotional resonance. Fox Spirit on a Distant Cloud is a stunning achievement.

Reviewer: Chris Reed

The Cuba Press


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