MANDARIN by Robert S. Elegant
Kirkus Star

MANDARIN

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Another Elegant Sino-spectacular (Dynasty, Manchu)--as, against a vast, cheerfully over-simplified wash of mid-19th-century Chinese history, fictional families (plus a few real-life movers and shakers) launch or muddle through Great Events. The Taiping Tienkuo--the Kingdom of Heavenly Peace--was a political/military movement dedicated to the overthrow of the Manchu dynasty, seen here as a kind of Cromwellian/pre-Mao ""unstable amalgam of traditional Chinese beliefs, primitive socialism, and Protestant Christianity."" And the rebels will have a canny foe in Yehenala--later in history to become the awesome Dowager Empress of the Boxer Rebellion, but now (1854) merely a virtuous concubine, only one of 16 chosen to share the bed of the weak Emperor Hsien Feng, seventh in the Manchu line to rule China. Through her intelligence and cunning, however, after the birth of a son and the Emperor's flight from the Imperial City before barbarian hordes of Westerners (who loot and burn the priceless palaces), Yehenala proves she is a master strategist in throne-room as well as bedroom diplomacy. And, thanks to a delicate chain of influence, she will unknowingly shuffle the families of Shanghai-based merchant Saul Haleevie and his partner Aisek Lee: it is Yehenala who prompts the Emperor to save Alsek from execution for ""filial impiety"" (his senile mother has committed suicide). Meanwhile, Saul adds to his family--wife Sarah, daughter Fronah--by adopting Aisek's sons David and Aaron. But, while David winds up as an aide to the A-1 Mandarin, Li Hung-Chang, victorious general of the Imperial Army, Aaron becomes involved with the Taiping rebels. Meanwhile, too, China-raised Fronah has a disastrous fling with an Englishman, marries banker Lionel Henriques, bears a son, then discovers that Lionel is inordinately fond of opium, little girls, and the Taiping rebellion. And finally, after the Emperor's death, Nanking/Peking/Shanghai travels, and the rebellion's doom, Fronah will find love with Gabriel Hyde from America (who just happens to be half-Jewish!). Intricate shuttlecock diplomacy, ceremonial/battle action, family saga/romance--all polished to an entertaining high gloss: a virtuoso pop-panorama, with fresh angles even if you've already read a dozen other China-history novels.

Pub Date: Oct. 15th, 1983
Publisher: Simon & Schuster