The city here is Macao, the Portuguese colony, at the close of the 18th century, and this is based on the journals of an Englishman, one Thomas van Mierop. (Austin Coates did a novel of modern China--The Road--in 1959 and has lived extensively in the Far East.) Not mandarin styled, but written with a steady, quiet interest, this book does not always make the transition from the original diaries to a story, per se, since the narrative is somewhat discontinuous. But its scaffolding is indeed remarkable and over the years traces the story of a Chinese foundling, Martha, left on a Convent doorstep, later deserted by her ""mother-in-God,"" loved (more than she gave in return) by East India Company's van Mierop, and achieving on her own the reputation of being ""the most prosperous woman of the floating world."" Always suspicious of her questionable status (she had originally been sold into concubinage) in what was at best a parlous society, of her tenuous rights in the ""city of broken promises,"" doubting her Thomas who offered her marriage time and again and agreeing to a secret, simulated ceremony just before his death--Martha's story has its guarded but sympathetic points of interest. . . . No Taipan but perhaps it can be directed toward some of that readership.