by Pat Barr ‧ RELEASE DATE: Sept. 14, 1982
A match for Far Pavilions in rich cultural ambience, with traces of the lyric intensity of Spring Moon, this first novel by an accomplished Asia hand packs razor's-edge adventure, Sino-European politics, and a one-woman feminist crusade into a rattling good tale of late-19th-century China. Two terrified children, Alice and Frank Greenwood, are trundled off from their father's mission at Tsientsin after his murder by an anti-""barbarian"" mob. Taken to the elegant home of Chu Lung-kuang, deputy governor of Hunan province, the kids somehow escape execution; instead they're absorbed as servants into the continually fascinating household. So Frank, a horse groom, plays athletic games with Younger Son, while Alice, now companion to Younger Daughter, is elevated at 15 to be a richly sexual concubine to Chu Lung-kuang--a role she plays delightedly, without ""missionary"" shame. But Alice will be turned away from her Chu ""family"" at her pregnancy (a mixed-blood embarrassment). And, along the way to Hong Kong, she escapes death and prostitution, suffers a miscarriage, and reaches her own people at last--but Western mores don't suit Alice. She refuses to cultivate a chauvinist admiration for all things English and a contempt for Chinese culture; she refuses to toil within the ""naive silliness"" of a dreary mission with frail mother Eliza and a bleakly pious stepfather; she stows away on an ox cart to accompany an uncle and older brother when they ""rescue"" Frank--who doesn't want to leave--from the Chu's; she becomes the lover of Lin Fu-Wei, a leader in the movement to bring Western technology (but not ideology) to China. And, after a disastrous marriage, widow Alice breaks through restrictions and conventions to manage her own business, helps run guns for China against the Japanese, survives the 55 Days at Peking, and ends up (in 1902) sailing ""home"" with a new Scots husband. Despite the slightly excessive feminist preaching: a grand late-Manchu adventure, tumultously plotted and handsomely decorated.
Pub Date: Sept. 14, 1982
Page Count: -
Publisher: St. Martin's
Review Posted Online: N/A
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1982
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