April 17, 2008

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The Blue Stone: A Journey Through Life, by Jimmy Liao (2008, Little, Brown and Company)
By Lisa Parsons lparsons@hippopress.com

Beautiful blue stone sits in forest. Men with bulldozers whack blue stone in half and take piece away. Little blue stone travels the world, but at every stop “Its heart breaks a little. It wants to go home.”

Bits of the stone are broken off all along, so that by the end, when it finally does get back home to the forest, it’s but a crumb.

A happy, beautiful and fulfilled blue crumb.

This story — found in the kids’ section because it’s a picture book — is written and illustrated by Taiwanese artist Jimmy Liao. It was first published in Chinese in 2006. The tale is simple and touchingly bittersweet (touching if you can empathize with a rock, anyway), but the art really makes the book. Liao’s inks and watercolors are vibrant, his colors highly saturated; his lines are clean and everything neatly circumscribed. A small girl’s bright blue umbrella shines against the gray sea and sky behind her, as do tiny squares of bright yellow light from a nearby cottage. There’s a high level of detail, down to the individual leaves in the backyard shrubbery, some dotted on with paint, some outlined with ink.

The people who take the stone for their own purposes have no idea where it has been. It spends time as statue and sculpture, it is admired by crowds and individuals — who have their own stories, hinted at just enough to draw the parallel. It spends years forgotten (it’s thrown away several times, between jobs). It is used in the building of a prison wall. It is tossed out a window by a woman longing to be free. It does a tour in the circus. It is carved and polished and turned into jewelry betokening someone’s love. But it always “belongs” with its other half (which is by now a hundred times its size) back in the thousands-years-old forest.

So there’s something here for everyone — the lover of painting and color; the romantic; the spiritual thinker, and the logician who will ask what becomes of all the other bits of stone that must be left behind as the original half-boulder is sculpted, chipped and eroded, and why they don’t each get their own book, and whether they too long to be re-united.

You could draw a variety of metaphors from this tale — maybe the return to the forest is a kind of death after a long and hard life, or maybe it’s finding your soulmate, who was always waiting for you, or maybe we’re just supposed to realize that a stone is a stone no matter how small. Maybe this is a story about leaving things the way you found them. Or maybe it’s just a story about heartbreaking homesickness and finally getting closure just a hair’s breadth before it’s too late.

Altogether, The Blue Stone artfully hints at, though it doesn’t really inform us much about, longing, loss, and a great circle of being. With very pretty pictures. B+Lisa Parsons