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An overwrought tale from popular Singapore writer Lim (The Bondmaid, 1997), this about a beautiful Chinese woman in Malaya and her impossible love for a handsome French priest. Like theme restaurants that depend more on decor than food, Lim's novel is more style than substance. The protagonist, Mei Kwei (whose life is followed from her birth in the 1930s to her death some 60 years later) is a woman who can arouse a fatal obsession in men. Like legendary demon women, she's marked with a distinctive teardrop-shaped mole, and like them she causes men to fall obsessively in love with her. Her Chinese family is poor, and her father, who favors her older brother, treats her contemptuously because she's a girl. As she grows up, her brother often intervenes to save her--from adoption, assaults, and fever--but he's as sexually obsessed with his sister as her suitors are. While rich merchant Old Yoong, and devout Catholic Austin Tong court her, Mei Kwei wants only to continue her studies (at the convent school her father removed her from) and experience a great love. This she eventually finds with Father Martin, the young French priest at the local Mission. She eventually gives in and marries Austin, but she and Father Martin, overwhelmed by their illicit passion, become lovers nevertheless. When she gives birth to Martin's son, Austin, learning of the affair, attacks Martin in a rage, and Mei Kwei flees to Singapore, where she becomes a bar girl. Many years later, a bittersweet reunion with Father Martin (now on his way to Vietnam) ""gives her a new yield of treasured pictures to be taken and stored away."" Setting alone can't change the nature of this one: an exotic would-be tearjerker that is only that--and no more.

Pub Date: Nov. 30th, 1998
Page count: 330pp
Publisher: Overlook