Imagine being a young teenager, losing your family, sent to be a servant, then escaping your tormentors and travelling to a new nation, while falling in love along the way. Disguised as a boy, Li Jun leaves China to search for her father in the hopes that he might still be alive, though no one had heard from him for several years after he travelled to the United States then Canada to work as one of the many thousands of Chinese immigrants building the CPR. Beginning in China, Li Jun and the Iron Road establishes the premise for our heroine’s escape from her ancestral country and her blossoming love for James Nichol, son of the railway company owner. Using the name “Little Tiger” Li Jun begins an epic journey to the British Columbia wilderness where she uses her knowledge of gun powder to set charges to build railway lines along the sides of mountain cliffs. While there, she meets many characters, some good and others evil, who victimize the Chinese labourer for capital gain. Ending with an exciting climax of discovery and reconciliation, Li Jun and the Iron Road vividly describes a darker time in Canadian history while one of our greatest technological achievements of nationhood was being created.
Curriculum Connections: This novel, dealing with the building of the CPR and the Chinese immigration policies of the 20th century, is an excellent resource for the intermediate classroom. Offering an account of the personal lives of the Chinese labourer contrasted against the national event of constructing the railway gives insight into the daily hardships of the people who often become the unsung heroes of greater accomplishments. Li Jun and the Iron Road demonstrates how history, often interpreted as a series of events, is really the collection of personal stories of hardship and triumph.
[Review by Kent Miller.]