MADAME GOLDENFLOWER by C. Y. Lee

MADAME GOLDENFLOWER

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Goldenflower, a beautiful teahouse keeper and the latter day mistress of the Chinese minister to Germany, is at thirty-five courting the serenity of middle age when the Boxer uprising robs her of her peace. In love with Li Chan, a high official of the Empress dowager, and familiar with European ways, circumstances mitigate against the beautiful courtesan when the Boxers gain force, promising death to all Europeans on Chinese soil. Li Chan, a rational man, realizes the lawlessness of the Boxers, but the Empress, a capricious woman, chooses to give them their way. In the reign of slaughter which accompanies the Boxer ascendance, Goldenflower is driven to a life of poverty, and it is rumored that Li Chan has been executed. When it becomes apparent that the Europeans must be placated, the Empress uses Goldenflower as a pawn, beseeching her to seduce the German Officer in charge. This she does, believing Li Chan dead or scornful of her, and retires to a life of low prostitution. A scene worthy of Tillie's Punctured Romance reunites Li Chan and Goldenflower who depart from Peking for a new and presumably idyllic life. With the current interest in the Boxer Rebellion stimulated by Peter Fleming's The Siege of Peking, a novel on the subject should find readers. Unfortunately C. Y. Lee, author of the Flower Drum Song, writes more convincingly on life in San Francisco's Chinatown than he does of the historical, continental China. The details of the tottering Chinese court, the eccentricities of the royal family, these are vividly enough handled, but add little to our knowledge. Many will feel that the picture of the Boxer rebellion is too one-sided and not related to China's inherently isolationist viewpoint -- and that the main characters' support of the Europeans within their gates is somewhat chauvinistic. Goldenflower herself seems a fragile reed for a long novel.

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Cudahy