Thank you to Carol Jones for this beautiful, signed copy. I am very grateful to have won a copy of this novel.
In 1930s Malaysia, sixteen-year-old Yu Lan is in love with her best friend, Ming, whose father owns one of the busiest kopi shops in Petaling Street. But Ming’s family don’t see the apothecary’s daughter as a suitable wife – for Yu Lan’s father, Lim, spends more time playing mahjong than selling herbal remedies. It’s not long before Lim makes a terrible decision that will change Yu Lan’s life forever, selling her as a concubine to the wealthy, ageing Towkay Chan who is desperate for a male heir.
The consequences of Lim’s betrayal resonate through four generations and into the present day, where Yu Lan’s great-grandson, Nick, is searching for his lost family history. His wife, Sarah, begins to be very afraid of what he will find as past and present meld into one.
My heart is aching after having read about the unimaginable pain, experienced by a concubine, who was once a happy and free young girl. This novel gave great insight into a time and place I had no knowledge of – 1930s Malaya. The novel was hauntingly powerful. I had to give myself time to process the sadness and experiences of this family prior to writing my review.
This novel follows Yu Lan, a young sixteen year old girl whose world is turned upside down as she is taken from her home, her love and her family, to become a part of a stranger’s family. The decision is made by her father, removing her from everything she has every known and depriving her of freedom, love and a wedding day. She becomes a concubine. Yu Lan was brought into the Chan family to produce a male heir for Towkay Chan. The sorrow and loss Yu Lan experiences are raw and heartbreaking. There were moments when I felt little relief from the melancholy feelings of the characters.
As a historical fiction novel, it was extremely well researched and allowed me to understand the horrors of this place and time. The dual time line allowed me to understand the modern day and historical culture of Malyasia. The story realistically paints scenes of the places, appealing to the senses. ‘Already the scent of home reached her nose, a mixture of barks, berries, roots, fungi …. ’ When travelling I have noticed the different scents of different places, just as home has it’s comforting scents. Carol Jones describes the feeling of coming back home in a way I will never forget. Home is truly where the heart remains.
‘You couldn’t fight life’s storms. You couldn’t fight fate. You could only wait.’ The life lessons discovered in the novel are significant not only in the characters’ world, also on a greater scale in relation to historical significance. This is emphasised in the modern day story of Ya Lan’s great grandson and his wife. It is possible to see the damaging effects that continued for years. Revenge plays a huge part in this novel along with the spiritual world. The characters will all learn from the ghosts of their past.
I would highly recommend this book due its historical significance, beautiful cultural descriptions and heartbreaking experiences felt by Yu Lan. What a wonderful story that will stay with me for a long time.