I actually just finished this book and decided to review it right away even though I have a backlog of other books I’ve finished that I still need to review. I just felt like the details of this one could slip away quickly, and I have some free time, so … here we go.
At over 500 pages, you’re either going to make the commitment to this book and go on its long journey, or you’re going to read the first 50 and decide it’s not for you. I actually wavered a couple of times, almost giving up, but then soldiering on to the end. I’m not trying to make this sound like a chore; I did like this book. But it’s not exactly happy subject matter.
Violet Minturn is a child growing up in a courtesan house in Shanghai, China in the early 1900’s. Her mother, an Amercian, owns the house. Because of her white skin, Violet feels superior to the Chinese courtesans, and yet is fascinated by them, spies on them. After learning her father is Chinese, her mind is kind of blown. The political climate in China changes, and her mother attempts to secure a passage for both of them to San Francisco. To do so, they entrust a man who claims to love Violet’s mother, but ends up screwing them over. Violet’s mother ends up on the ship to San Fran and Violet is sold to a courtesan house. Now a teen with no money and no one to care for her, she has no choice but to become what she grew up looking down on.
The book recounts Violet’s life and the many ups and downs she takes as she tries to gain her own freedom and find her mother (who believes her to be dead due to further trickery). One section of the book also recounts her mother Lucia’s upbringing and how she ended up in Shanghai in the first place.
Many moments in the book are heartbreaking. So, spoiler alert there. If you think Violet has found happiness, just wait a couple pages. But it all ends fairly well (another spoiler alert).
Give this one a shot if you are into historical fiction, don’t mind a long read, and have any interest in Chinese culture. Although I’d say of those criteria I’m at a 1/3 (don’t mind a long read) and I still enjoyed it.
How’s that for an ambivalent review?