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Merle

Merle

The Russian Concubine - Kate Furnivall This is not (to my relief) a romance novel mistakenly placed in the historical fiction section. It is in fact a complex historical novel centered around a truly engaging young woman, a White Russian refugee living in 1920's China. I actually found the romance to be not only unrealistic, but the weakest part of the book. The "love at first sight" bit seemed silly, and Lydia's ready acceptance of Chang's communist ideals was at odds with her own past (losing her father, whom she still hero-worships, to communist violence). This book could have been written without including the love story at all, and might have been better that way.

However, Lydia is a great protagonist, and I loved her interaction with most of the characters--particularly her mother; their exchanges were highly entertaining and rang far truer than most mother-daughter relationships in historical fiction. There is also a strong cast of supporting characters to keep us entertained, the pacing is good, settings are vividly described, and Furnivall gives us a good feel for the Chinese language (or at any rate I assume the bizarre expressions some characters used were meant to be direct translations from Chinese). Thought-provoking issues are raised (i.e. xenophobia, particularly among expats--just as the foreigners in this book have places in China where no Chinese are admitted, there are no-Mexicans-allowed clubs, golf courses, etc., in Mexico today).

Overall, I found this to be a great book, although I'd include the caveat that there is a torture scene or two, which may turn some readers off. Still, it's an enjoyable book.