A Novel by Paul Yee|
Douglas & McIntyre. 144 pp. $7.95.
In the bleak hollow of the Great Depression, they ruled the world of soccer, dominating their opposition with incredible skill and precision. Nothing could deter loyal supporters from turning out, not even the rain. The games were always free and in difficult times celebrations were rare, especially in Vancouver's Chinatown.
In fact, outside of Canada's largest Chinese community, the team played and won in virtual obscurity. Beyond the physical and social barriers that then existed, few would willingly acknowledge the accomplishments of the Vancouver Chinese Students Soccer Club. Yet, so would be the eventual and undeserved fate for a team, and an entire community.
Today, the real-life legacy of those who played and lived, on and off the field, survives in the fictionalized reprieve of author-historian Paul Yee's Breakaway. Yee's departure into narrative fiction is a convincing testimony to those Canadians who saw much in life, but, until now, remained unseen.
Yee recaptures life as a Chinese Canadian in the 1930s, an era when Vancouver's Chinese soccer clubs reigned supreme, through the eyes of eighteen-year-old Kwok-ken Wong.
Excluded from every aspect of Canadian life except for the institution of sports, Kwok-ken endures the hardships of growing up in abject poverty. For him, life is a tiring and bitter monotony of schoolwork, homework, and farm work--sweeping the pigsty and weeding his father's "precious" asparagus field.
When his chances of winning a soccer scholarship are dashed, despite his academic and athletic success, Kwok-ken learns firsthand that the game of life is not played on a level field. He tries hard to fit into a society that clearly has no desire to welcome him or his kind, but is eventually forced to confront what his parents fear most for him: the loss of culture and identity. He struggles to discover, or regain, his direction in life.
The winning tradition of Vancouver's Chinese soccer teams in Canada will come as a surprise to some, but ignorance of the clubs' stunted celebrity is not the only oversight corrected in Breakaway. The stories behind the contributions made by the many Chinese Canadian market gardeners who toiled years-on-end to eke out an honourable livelihood, despite the impediments they faced as a particular group in Canada in sometimes less than human conditions are revealed.
In Breakaway, the description is detailed. The experiences clearly come from someone who is familiar with the past. Written for a young adult audience, it is modest in length, but serious in theme.
Breakaway is a timely tribute. Its release coincides with the recent passing of 88-year old soccer legend Quene Yip in Vancouver, a human reminder of that glorious era of athletic achievement originating out of Canada's Chinese community. At the same time, Breakaway provides a great metaphor for unspoken heroes, far removed from the soccer pitch. Readers will be taken by the rich history offered by Yee's writing, including the climactic departure of its conclusion.