MANCHU by Robert S. Elegant
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A pleasant change of pace from the interminable Dynasty (1977), this is a decorative, picaresque adventure in which Elegant trots out an enormous variety of amusing, scholarly odds and ends more or less pertinent to the tumultous Ming-Manchu wars of mid-17th-century China. Francis Arrowsmith, an English orphan raised by Spanish Jesuits but more comfortable with cannon than celibacy, takes his place in a Portuguese Expeditionary Force based in Macao. These soldiers and missionary Jesuits have been invited by the Peking's Ming Emperor (dissolute and manipulated by a court of wily eunuchs) to help him drive out the tartars (later ""manchus"") of the north. The Jesuits, of course, consider this a ""heaven-sent"" opportunity to spread Christianity to China; and Francis meets many Chinese Christians in his 25 years of warring and double agenting, including the Ming Emperor's ""Minister of Rites""--who adopts Francis as a son and forces him into marriage with his niece, initially exciting Marta, who'll bear Francis a daughter and considerable ill will. Later, Francis takes his valued cannon expertise to the Emperor of the Manchus (not at first by choice), and here another potential wife is brought forth, the blunter but adoring Barbara. Francis snakes out of this marriage, however, returns to Peking for assorted confrontations, and tours with the bandit One-Eyed Li--who crushes the Ming Emperor. And eventually Francis winds up at a Ming outpost in the south, then weds a wealthy Portuguese widow in Macao (Matra dies in the siege of Peking), who bears him a son and turns him home toward Europe, away from inhospitable China. As usual, Elegant gives slow (559 pp.), loving care to handsomely lacquered rituals and inscrutable dialogues. But, far more so than in Dynasty, he has great fun here with the serpentine politics, rites, fantastic food, and mores of the period. You will too.

Pub Date: Oct. 20th, 1980
Publisher: McGraw-Hill