This historical mystery, set in Imperial China in the late 1700s, is an absolute delight. It must be incredibly tough as an author to write a book like this – not only do you have to get the culture and history right, but you also have to create realistic characters and a compelling mystery. Debut novelist Elsa Hart takes all these threads – and a few more – and deftly weaves them into an excellent novel. This is a mesmerizing, riveting mystery - one of those novels where you read the last page, close the book, and sigh contentedly as if you just ate an incredibly satisfying meal.
This novel reminds me of early LeCarre, which is a good thing, because that is when he did his best work. Philip Mangan, a British journalist working in China, is approached by a man who tells him, "the night heron is hunting." Mangan mentions this encounter to a “friend” who works in the British Embassy. The “friend” then communicates this to his bosses in London who are definitely interested in pursuing contact. Mangan then becomes the contact for British Intel
Four Girl is unwanted and unloved by her family. Seen as a demon-child, her family practically gives her up as a lost cause. Four girl, searching for acceptance discovers catholic missionaries near her small Chinese village. After one exceptionally harsh experience with her grandfather, Four runs into the forest and sees a vision of Jeanne D'Arc. As Four distances herself from her family, and grows closer to the missionaries visions of Jeanne come more often, offering peace and guidance.
This book takes place in the 1970s in China during Mao’s Cultural Revolution. The main protagonists are two boys who grew up in an intellectual family background, and for this reason were exiled to a very rural countryside to be “re-educated.” Their re-education equals mainly hard and demeaning labor. One of the boys is a violin virtuoso and is not allowed to play an instrument considered to spread western propaganda.
Peony is a lovesick maiden in China during the 1600s. Meaning, she read a play called The Peony Pavilion and then, like the main character in the play, starved herself to death for want of love. The first half of the book details Peony’s life until her death. The second half details Peony’s journey to becoming an ancestor after her death.
Lisa See returns to her Lydia Chin/Bill Smith mystery series with The Shanghai Moon. It has been so long since the last Chin/Smith mystery that I have forgotten what exactly happened between these two characters. No matter - it is alluded to briefly in the beginning of the book, but then things pick up the pace and we get back on track solving mysteries.
"I realize that I'd remembered only the good things...how exotic it was...because with time blocking out the bad, memory is always bound to be a bit naive and stupidly optimistic." Guy Delisle returns to China for the second time to oversee an animation department and while the experience for him is excruciatingly boring (he can go for days without speaking to anyone) his sharing of those three months is simultaneously interesting and laugh-out-loud funny. Having worked in animation for 10 years, his illustrations are brilliant as well.