An Insular Possesion

Timothy Mo, Author Random House (NY) $19.95 (593p) ISBN 978-0-394-55430-3
In the early 1800s, the Chinese Empire became a reluctant host to a variety of Canton-based Occidental trading companies, eager to relieve it of tea and silver. In exchange, England soothed the Chinese with vast quantities of Indian opium, a practice much deplored but soon to be emulated by their American competitors. In Mo's third novel (after The Monkey King and Sour Sweet, two young Americans, Walter Eastman and Gideon Chase, resolve to expose this and other abuses by leaving their trading company to start a newspaper. They are soon embroiled, as observers and participants, in a series of skirmishes later known as the Opium Wars, until a final Chinese victory relegates all traders to that unsettled territory, Hong Kong. This hefty work covers eight years of history: readers may feel that it takesas much time to absorb it. All manner of arcane information, correspondence, news clippings, characters and events are knit together by chronology alone, in an apparently deliberate attempt to recreate the tenor of those times. Possibly more attuned to British readers (it was shortlisted for the Booker Prize), the book informs rather than excites and seems to echo one character's view of the world: ""It is untidy, there are no reasons, the final sum never balances.'' (March 2)
Reviewed on: 03/01/1987
Release date: 03/01/1987
Paperback - 978-0-679-72225-0
Paperback - 728 pages - 978-0-9524193-8-9
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