China: The Novel

Edward Rutherfurd. Doubleday, $35 (800p) ISBN 978-0-385538-93-0
Rutherfurd’s immersive if uneven epic (after Paris: The Novel) focuses on the development of China’s relationship with the West. He begins in 1839, on the eve of what became known as the Opium War. British traders have been profiting from selling the drug to the Chinese, and Lord Lin, a righteous government minister, vows to stamp out the lucrative trade, by force if necessary, a tack that prompts the British to showcase their naval superiority. Rutherfurd carries the story forward through the early 20th century, ending it after the Boxer Rebellion in 1900, and the untimely death of a Chinese emperor. The conflicts are illuminated via a large cast, including Lin’s young assistant, Jiang Shi-Rong; Nio, a pirate who shifts his alliances out of expediency; the unimaginatively named Englishman John Trader, whose fortune hinges on the uninterrupted flow of opium from India into China; and Lacquer Nail, a father and husband who becomes a palace eunuch to support his family, a trade Rutherfurd illuminates with somewhat expositional dialogue. The earlier sections are more engaging than the exhausting second half, and the balance between Asian and Occidental characters may disappoint some who’d hoped, from the title, that the focus would be on the Chinese. Nonetheless, readers unfamiliar with the history will learn something from this action-packed saga. (May)
Reviewed on : 02/24/2021
Release date: 05/11/2021
Genre: Fiction
Hardcover - 816 pages - 978-0-385-68201-5
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Audio book sample courtesy of Penguin Random House Audio
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