Reviewed by Marilyn Irwin
Box Kite is a story comprised of “proto-stories, [...] essays, or memoirs, or prose poems” written by Baziju, a collective pen name for writers Roo Borson and Kim Maltman. The name Baziju seems to derive from the Mandarin Chinese word “ba” which refers to a type of sentence construction or pattern within that language and which has multiple and varying linguistic definitions; and “ziju” which refers to words, writing, expression or sentence, depending on context and interpretation. One could therefore understand the alias in a literal sense as the written weaving and expression of English and Mandarin. but the authors put it best in the titular poem “Box Kite”: “Baziju is a vessel for shared experience”.
Communication, translation, interpretation and mental association are all underlying currents which masterfully bridge the poems. And food. When learning about a culture different from your own, food often plays a huge part in walking a mile. It is sustenance and nourishment of the body, mind, and soul. It is a means of connection within heritage and community. It’s aesthetically pleasing and, frankly, delicious.
From “Xishi Doufu”
And now before us stood a dish of Xishi Doufu.
The cubes so white they seemed almost translucent,
so delicate they registered even the slight shocks of
the waiters passing, unobtrusively as always, near
our table. The tremulous cubes slid away at the
touch of the serving spoon and, upon being lifted
with chopsticks, would pause a moment and then
break in half.
Heavily descriptive, captivating imagery – in text and with accompanying black and white photographs of their travels – illustrates and illuminates. Diverse settings in Canada and overseas in Taiwan, etc., help set the scene for Baziju to welcome readers into their world where the oneness of voice and experience effervesce, suffuse, surprise. A walk to a temple becomes a contemplative adventure, a meal out for dumplings turns into a nostalgic story about winter cabbage, memories of a Toronto street end with a Buddhist bowing woman and a lot of cats.
At times, references to or inclusion of various Chinese words, places and people are made so an understanding of Chinese culture is helpful but a general curiousity for a culture other than your own and the interconnectedness of life is basic necessity. Between explanations within the pieces, the invaluable “Notes” section at the end of the book, as well a few Wikipedia searches for full effect, the flow of the book doesn’t suffer and the authors’ intended reading experience is magnified with each subsequent read.
Box Kite was published in 2016 by House of Anansi Press.