Sunday, January 17, 2010

Our Hart Elegy for a Concubine - Lloyd Lofthouse

Our Hart Elegy for a Concubine
Lloyd Lofthouse
January 2010?
Three Clover Press
9780981955315

The blurb from the e-mail I was sent when I was offered a copy of Our Hart Elegy For A Concubine for review:
Our Hart, Elegy for a Concubine is the sequel to the award-winning historical fiction novel My Splendid Concubine, and this second book shows shows Robert Hart in action as he becomes the "Godfather of China's Modernism." Hart not only became famous as Inspector General of Chinese Maritime Customs, but he was behind the building of China's railroads, postal service and schools. Hart arrived in China in 1854 from Ireland and by 1908 had made his indelible mark on Chinese society. The Ch'ing Dynasty called him "Our Hart."

This volume also reveals the love story that Hart did not want the world to know about. Behind every great man, there is a woman; and for Hart it was Ayaou, a Chinese concubine.
 First, I should note that I was given an ARC copy of Our Hart, Elegy For A Concubine for review. That said, on with the review and my thoughts:

This is the sequel to the book My Splendid Concubine (Amazon.com link), but I can certainly tell you that you don't need to have read the first book for this one to be a good read. I haven't read it yet. However, I'd certainly like to now.

Robert Hart, who I'm guessing is an actual historical figure is torn between the life he's building for himself in China, and the life he left behind in Victorian England. He's found love and created a family for himself on the Chinese model, but constantly in the back of his head is the knowledge that his family in England would disapprove. Much of the background for this story, including the situation Hart and Ayaou find themselves in at the beginning of Our Hart, as well as the cast of characters is clearly material that had been left at the end of My Splendid Concubine, but much of it is gradually explained as the story progresses.

I really enjoyed reading this, and I'm discovering an interest in the China of this period and earlier. The characters are three dimensional and 'real', part of which, I suspect is due to their being actual figures of history, even if I don't know much about it.

This is not a long book, but neither is it too short. There's enough detail that I was able to 'see' the settings, characters and way of life, but not enough to bog the story down by slowing it down too much.

I certainly enjoyed the story, but I will also admit that there were quite a few points where I felt lost, not knowing what had happened previously, because I hadn't read the first book.

My final note is that the book is due to be released some time this month (January 2010), but I don't see any sign of it on Amazon.com or Chapters/Indigo.ca, as either being out now, or available for pre-order. When it does come out though, I recommend both My Splendid Concubine (amazon.com link) and Our Hart Elegy For A Concubine as good reads if you like historical fiction.
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