Sunday, August 03, 2008

REVIEW: The Russian Concubine

Title: The Russian Concubine
Author: Kate Furnivall
Protagonist: 16-year-old Lydia Ivanova
Setting: Junchow, China, 1928
Standalone historical fiction
Rating: C+

First Line: The train growled to a halt.

Inspired by the experiences of her mother, Furnivall has written a debut novel about a star-crossed love in 1928 China. Valentina Ivanova and her 16-year-old daughter, Lydia, barely escaped the Bolsheviks in Russia, only to find themselves outcasts in a China torn between Chiang Kai Shek and Mao Se Tung. They barely manage to scrape by, subsisting on what Valentina earns as a pianist and femme fatale and what Lydia manages to steal and pawn. Coming home from the pawn shop, Lydia wanders into the wrong part of town but manages to be saved by Chang An Lo, an English-educated, Communist kung fu master. The minute they look at each other, they fall in love.

Furnivall did an excellent job in making me feel as if I were actually in 1928 China, but everything else unraveled. The entire relationship between Lydia and Chang was improbable, so my reading was a bit doomed from the start. The only character I actually liked was a minor one: Theo Willoughby, the headmaster of the school Lydia attended. He was a much more complex, interesting character, and I think if Furnivall had made him the focus, the book would've been a winner. As it was, I found the book flawed, but an interesting glimpse into another time and way of life.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Thank you for taking the time to make a comment. I really appreciate it!