by Mona Gardner ‧ RELEASE DATE: May 1, 1958
Report repeated from the December 1st issue, as follows: ""A many faceted story of what is commonly known as the 'Opium War' when American and British merchants reaped fortunes smuggling opium into Chinese ports, and paid tribute in fantastic figures to maintain their precarious hold on Chinese trade. Tea was the one sustaining factor, with silks and porcelains and numerous other 'covers' for the real trade in opium. This is an absorbingly interesting story, based on the factual record of the struggle. Gill Bennett, younger brother of the tea merchant, Tad Bennett, Macao-based, comes out to China to break the news that he has closed out the business at home. He learns on landing that his brother is dead- his own future uncertain. Determined to make a quick fortune and cocky over his presumed success in taking advantage of opening wedges, he disdains advice from Manning, a senior operator, and from others- and soon gets way beyond his depth, caught in the intricacies and trickeries of the Chinese, the Portuguese, and others vastly more experienced. Woven into the story are segments of the Chinese court life, with its hierarchy, its duplicity, its exquisiteness, its sadism. The Celestial One schemes to acquire yet greater riches to satisfy his taste for the fine arts. And his concubines turn to their means of trickery to achieve the goals they've set themselves. One particular concubine, Lady Li, provides a new approach; she uses her gifts of poetic expression, her culinary arts and wiles, her sound business sense-to build up security until the moment when she achieves escape. Other facets of the story- an intricate one- concern the minor officials, the mandarins, the factors- all seeking riches, safety, power- and stooping to incredible bestiality and crookedness to get their way. And backgrounding the whole plotting, scheming, double-dealing picture, there is a way of life that at its peak is ultra civilized- and at its depth incredibly sordid. There is adventure-romance- history; some of the characters are authentic figures- and the culmination in the destruction of the imperial battle fleet by two English vessels, with Hong Kong, a rocky, useless harbor island as the reward, contributes an aspect of East-West relations in which neither side can boast of its role.
Pub Date: May 1, 1958
Page Count: -
Review Posted Online: N/A
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1958
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