Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Private Papers of Eastern Jewel by Maureen Lindley

Flap copy from paperback:
"Peking 1914. When eight-year-old princess Eastern Jewel is caught spying on her father's liaison with a servant girl, she is banished from the palace, sent to live with a powerful family in Japan. Renamed Yoshiko Kawashima, she quickly falls in love with her adoptive country, where she earns a scandalous reputation, taking fencing lessons, smoking opium, and entertaining numerous lovers. Sent to Mongolia to become an obedient wife, Yoshiko mounts a daring escape and eventually finds her way back to Peking high society- this time with order from the Japanese secret police."

This book is a hard one to review as I suspect I would have reacted more favorably had it been billed as a straight novel rather than a work of historical fiction based on true events. I actually enjoy a well-imagined work of historical fiction, but this book relied too much on sexual exploits as the motivating factor for every plot twist to be even close to believable. Though it seems the true motivations for Eastern Jewel's actions remain clouded by history, it is hard to accept Lindley's version of events given the lack of any factual justifications.

Though I did enjoy the glimpses into court life in China and Japan in the early part of the 20th century, the characters all seem a bit more like caricatures of Western stereotypes. It is hard to accept this bleak picture of life in Asia from an author with few (if any) qualifications in the region. Despite all these weaknesses, the book was well-written and easy to read. Lidley paints vivid pictures with her words; the clothes and settings are well explained even if the characters are not.

I probably would have given this book four stars if it were billed as straight fiction, but presenting it as a possible version of history was too much of a stretch for me. It is a shame though because the real story of Eastern Jewel would probably make for an excellent book if anyone actually knew it...

1 comment:

Sandra said...

I have an arc of this and hoped it would be better than that. I'll probably still get some enjoyment out of it. Good review, it must not have been an easy one to write.