Saturday, March 30, 2019

Qing Empresses Exhibition at the Freer/Sackler Museum in Washington DC

The Qing Empresses Exhibition at the Freer/Sackler Museum in Washington DC starts today and will last until June 23, 2019.

Empress Xiaozhuang, the protagonist of my novel The Green Phoenix, is one of the featured Empresses.

Book Review - "Bring Up the Bodies" by Hilary Mantel

Prompted by the BBC TV series, I had previously read Wolf Hall (to which I gave 3.5 stars). While that first novel impressed me as leaning on whitewashing Thomas Cromwell (especially when contrasted with Thomas More), I found Bring Up the Bodies to be somewhat more balanced in the portrayal of his character.

The main storyline in this novel is about Anne Boleyn’s downfall and Cromwell’s hand in the elaborate scheme that brought about the indictment and execution of Anne herself, her brother, and four other men in various ranks, all for high treason. Here, Cromwell is the chief schemer, who would admittedly benefit politically from the erasure of his ally-turned-rival. But in his role as King Henry’s trusted adviser, he has little choice but to anticipate his wishes and act at his behest. When the belligerent and self-important Anne threatens his life, he understandably needs to move first. Granted, the underlying powder keg of the whole meltdown is the King’s burgeoning whims for another woman, Jane Seymour, which means that Anne, whose cardinal sin is her inability to produce a male heir, is doomed in the first place. The play of chance and design is fully fleshed out.

In portraying Cromwell’s internal thoughts when he seeks to justify his ruthless cunning in culling his enemies, Mantel often invokes his obsession with avenging his mentor and master, the deceased Wolsey. But the fact that he never lets himself be brought down with him does suggest that his loyalties may be less steadfast than perceived. Still, given his humble background and the horde of predatory noblemen constantly hounding him, self-preservation at the cost of rivals seems to be a more believable excuse.

As for his reformation effort that is supposed to be beneficial to British society, especially where it concerns shutting down papist monasteries and confiscating their estates and channeling the proceeds to education and feeding the poor, perhaps his contribution cannot be denied, although in the process, while stuffing the King’s coffers, he also conveniently empowers and enriches himself.

This passage reveals at a glance the essence of both Anne’s and Cromwell’s characters:

He has always rated Anne highly as a strategist. He has never believed in her as a passionate, spontaneous woman. Everything she does is calculated, like everything he does.

This paragraph gives a clear gist of the novel:

Statements, indictments, bills are circulated, shuffled between judges, prosecutors, the Attorney General, the Lord Chancellor’s office; each step in the process clear, logical, and designed to create corpses by due process of law.

Overall, the novel is full of immersive intrigue and drama while seemingly adhering to historical facts. I’m giving this novel 4 stars.

Saturday, March 9, 2019

Wow! Had to Share this Review!

Julianne of Yorkshire, U.K. chose The Green Phoenix for her Goodreads Group's ("For Love of a Book" Group) World Libraries Challenge 2019. 

I had to share her lovely review:

"The story of Bumbutai, a Mongolian princess who became the revered Grand Dowager Empress Xiaozhuang, unfolds against the backdrop of the fall of the Ming dynasty and the rise of the Manchu Qing.

I can't say enough about how much I loved this book. The story telling vividly brought the characters and political machinations to life.

Reading this sent me on a journey back in time and through a huge emotional range, from curiosity to anger to love to laughter.

I honestly can't think of the last time I loved a book so much.

I read this because of the For The Love Of A Book groups World Libraries Challenge for 2019, one of the challenges was to read a Book with a MPG of Historical Fiction set in China or Japan. After hours of browsing Goodreads I found The Green Phoenix and I was so glad I did."

Link to the Goodreads review.

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Book Review - "The Good Man of Nanking: The Diaries of John Rabe

I had delayed reading this important book for a long time simply out of sheer fear of having the atrocious scenes imprinted on my mind.

In June 2011, I had attended a talk by Iris Chang’s mother, Dr. Ying-ying Chang, in Vancouver about her book The Woman Who Could Not Forget: Iris Chang Before and Beyond the Rape of Nanking. At that event I had also seen a documentary recording the heinous acts committed by the Japanese soldiers during the invasion and occupation of Nanking between 1937 and 1938. (As mentioned in this book, the film documentary was produced by Rev. John Magee, an American missionary.) So I was mentally prepared going into The Good Man of Nanking. Still, I found myself consciously skimming the photos in the book as best as I could.

I had not previously read Iris Chang’s The Rape of Nanking, the research of which in fact relied heavily on these diaries, which were not published as a book until forty-nine years after John Rabe’s death in 1949. The fact that John Rabe had not intended for his diaries to be published (he had only meant them for his family members’ reading) adds to the value of the book as an authentic and unassailable true account of what really happened, without any hidden agenda. The plain, sometimes emotional, but always from the heart, monologue style of writing, while speaking to readers’ mind and soul, gives good insight into the selfless and compassionate character of this good-hearted German. The monstrosities that he had to try to deflect from some 250,000 Chinese refugees were in ironic contrast to the humanitarian efforts of a handful of Westerners including him who happened to be in Nanking.    

The first entry was made on September 21, 1937 and the last one was dated February 28, 1938.

This January 25, 1938 entry gives a good idea of the gist of the events on record:

“There is one case that we don’t record: A Chinese worker, who has worked all day for the Japanese, is paid in rice instead of money. He sits down in exhaustion with his family at the table, on which his wife has just placed a bowl of watery rice soup: the humble meal for a family of six. A Japanese soldier passing by plays a little joke and urinates in the half-full rice bowl and laughs as he goes his merry way.

The incident made me think of the poem “Lewwer duad us Slaav” (“Better Dead than a Slave”), but one simply can’t expect a poor Chinese worker to behave like a free Frisian. The Chinese are far too downtrodden, and they patiently submitted to their fate long ago. It is, as I said, an incident that is given the scantest notice. If every case of rape were revenged with murder, a good portion of the occupying troops would have been wiped out by now.”

After Rabe and his wife returned to Germany in April 1938, they went through days of hunger and destitution in 1945 and 1946. When the Chinese Military Mission in Berlin made him an offer to resettle in China in exchange for appearing as a witness for the prosecution at the Tokyo war crimes tribunal, Rabe declined.

In a message he left for his grandchildren, he explained: “I didn’t want to see any Japanese hang, although they deserved it…..There must be some atonement, some just punishment; but in my view the judgment should be spoken only by their own nation.”

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Kristen McQuinn's Review of The Green Phoenix Made My Heart Throb!

I was not prepared for this absolutely glowing review by the seasoned reviewer Kristen McQuinn, who writes for the esteemed book review site Discovering Diamonds and Historical Novel Society.