My Splendid Concubine by Lloyd Lofthouse is a novel that encompasses true events but is told as a fictional story. It is about Robert Hart, who is often referred to as the ‘Godfather of China’s modernism’. He came from Ireland as a commoner to work in China at the British Consulate as an interpreter in 1854. By the end of his career he was Inspector General of Chinese Mandarin Customs, chief adviser for the Emperor, and the Senior Guardian of the Heir Apparant of the Ch’ing dynasty. Robert Hale had made a place for himself in China, he had immersed himself in their culture and had lived as a Chinese man would. No other Westerner had ever achieved the level of power and success that Robert Hart had.
You might ask why. Well I feel a good part of that success was his sheer determination and the other part was the intense love he felt for his concubine Ayaou. The novel is centered around his first years in China where he met Ayaou and her sister and where he began his education that brought him to be the man he grew to be.
For me, really, this novel is a love story that is rich with Chinese culture. Robert originally comes to China to escape his life in Ireland where he wishes to avoid embarrassing his family by his actions with women in college. In China he finds that his behaviour would not have been considered such a bad thing and his mind is in turmoil. Robert struggles throughout the novel with his Christian upbringing (his father is a pastor) and the way that in China it’s perfectly normal for a man to have concubines. While Robert is fascinated with the idea of the concubines he doesn’t like how they are treated. Where he comes from women are treated as equals and with respect.
The story takes off when Robert meets Ayaou. It is love at first site for him and he has to have her. Ayaou too, has a fiery personality. However in the wings is an evil man, Ward, who has his sites set on her also. Eventually through a fight with the Taipings, Robert has Ayaou with him but also her sister Shao-mei. Shao-mei he owns, Ayaou he doesn’t. Again Robert is torn with his desire for Shao-mei who he feels is just a child but doesn’t act like one and his love for Ayaou. He builds a home with these women and this is where his real education begins. A lot of this education is due to Ayaou asking his teacher if he shouldn’t be learning this or that. She also taught him meanings of symbols and foods-everything in daily life became a lesson in Chinese culture and Robert soaked it up. He never knew what he would come home to but he knew that Ayaou had a reason for everything whether it to teach him something, to improve their lives or to offer protection for their home.
I found the novel fascinating and it should be as it took almost nine years of Llyod Lofthouse’s life to write. It is beautifully written and so rich in details of the Chinese culture. It was interesting to read how fathers sold their daughters in order to care for the rest of the family or young boys were castrated in order to get better jobs and in turn care for their family. In China it is all about family and taking care of them no matter what the cost. It was funny to read that when you are praising your concubines to others you should say that they are ugly. If you praise them in front of others, then they have reason to worry. I felt I learned so much from this novel and I enjoyed every bit.
There is *sexual content in this novel so if that isn’t for you then you may want to skip this book. However, I think it is a part of this story in that it is a part of the culture of China. We also have to keep in mind the age that Robert Hart was. He was a young man in his 20’s with a strong libido who was also deeply in love and he had two young, beautiful women were throwing themselves at him daily. I didn’t personally find the scenes overwhelming.
Before this novel I did not know who Robert Hart was. I must thank Lloyd Lofthouse for this novel as now I feel I’ve been acquainted with a great man from history. One who respected and loved women and fought to make things better. I’ve also been introduced to many aspects of the Chinese culture that I didn’t know and I really enjoyed that. This was a really good novel for me and I was sorry to see it end. Truthfully I would have liked to learn more about how Robert’s and Ayaou’s lives evolved after the emotional ending of this story.
Many thanks to Lloyd Lofthouse for this great novel and also thanks to Dorothy Thompson from Pump Up Your Book Promotion for sending me this book. Make sure to visit Lloyd’s website here and please join me here at Peeking Between the Pages tomorrow for a guest post from Lloyd Lofthouse.
Dorothy Thompson says
Wonderful review, Dar! Thank you! I’ll see if I can’t get Lloyd over here to see what a great job you did. Thank you so much!
Cool – I just had someone ask for recommendations on good novels about China. I will send them this link.
Ah ha.. I knew if I kept Checking you would have a review… okay.. I actually have to go back and read it now. 🙂 Happy Monday Dar!!
Lloyd Lofthouse says
Dar, thank you for this powerful review for ‘My Splendid Concubine’. You wrote, “This was a really good novel for me and I was sorry to see it end. Truthfully I would have liked to learn more about how Robert’s and Ayaou’s lives evolved after the emotional ending of this story.”
Here’s news: There is a sequel that covers the next seven years in the lives of Ayaou and Robert Hart. The sequel’s title is ‘Our Hart’, since the Prince Kung, one of the Emperor’s younger brothers, coined this phrase as an endearment after Robert Hart proved he was loyal, hardworking and trustworthy. His work schedule, after he was Inspector General, often ran from six in the morning until midnight. He worked at a standing desk—not one where you sit in a chair. As you might guess, Hart’s new responsibilities will put a strain on his relationship with Ayaou.
‘Our Hart’s’ rough draft is completed and the manuscript is going through final revisions and editing. I hope to have ‘Our Hart’ out in the next few months.
Meanwhile, ‘My Splendid Concubine’ is going to have a rebirth. The second edition will be published soon from another small press. Concubine will also have another ISBN, and a new cover. The story will be the same. No scenes were deleted. However I did ‘lightly’ edit the novel. Concubine will have a similar word count but less pages as there will be a better job with the formatting. That should generate a better price. As a matter of fact, if you want to see the new cover for ‘My Splendid Concubine’ and keep track of ‘Our Hart’s’ progress and release date, here’s a direct link to that information: http://www.mysplendidconcubine.com/moreabout.htm
Wow.. great review Dar… I didn’t know about Robert Hart either.
Scrap girl says
Fantastic review and nice to see the author praising you as well. I am amazed it took him nine years, but he must be so proud of his achievement.
This sounds sound fascinating, especially all the cultural aspects. I’ve read very few books set in China, so this is one to keep in mind.
The history behind Concubines in general is really interesting to me. Have you ever seen the move Raise The Red Lantern? It’s really good and would be great to see after reading this book.
this sounds like a great book, wonderful review!
and how cool of the author to stop by and comment. i’ll have to add this to my TBR.
I love learning about different cultures. It’s fascinating to see what is fine in one place is taboo in others. Great review!
Great review. I just read Snow Flower & The Secret Fan and I wanted to learn more about concubines. Maybe I'll pick this one up.
That was a fantastic review. I must read this book!!! Looking forward to your author visit tomorrow!!
carmen alexis says
This sounds like a great book! I’m Chinese Canadian and have always loved my Chinese heritage. Thanks for the recommendation! =)
Great review. I will definitely have to add this to my TBR list.
Learning about other cultures sometimes finds me shaking my head in disbelief or dropping my jaw in surprise. Always though, I’m happy to be enlightened!
Dar this is a great review. I did not hear of Hart before this. Another book you’ve placed on my radar.
Jenny Girl says
Terrific review, Dar.
Chinese history and traditions have always been fascinating to me, becasue it is not something that you read about that often or are taught about in a class. Anthropology classes don’t ususally cover this topic.
Anoth book for the TBR 🙂
Wonderful review, Dar. I’m glad you clarified the sexual content. I just love books that steep you in their culture. So intriguing!
Erika Lynn says
Great review. I can’t believe it took him nine years to right. I don’t know if I could have stayed focused that long.
A very good and thorough review! I’m very interested in reading this book now. I am going to put it on my Amazon Wishlist. The culture is China is fascinating, especially because they’ve had such a long history of continuous civilization… over 5,000 years! No other civilization can boast that the way China can.
This is a really great review! The book sounds fascinating and I’m definitely going to be looking into it.
Great review, Dar! The book sounds good so I’ll have to check it out.
Teddy Rose says
What a wonderful review Dar. I love historicals set in China and My Splendid Concubine is on my TBR. There are so many glowing reviews out there that this is a must read for me.
Sounds very, very good! I’m going to have to go enter the contest after all :o)
Dar, this sounds SO good! I’ve been looking for historical fiction or even non-fiction about China and this looks like a perfect one to dive into. I don’t know who Robert Hart is either…
I added this book to my wish list after reading your review; read the author’s guest post today, and am hoping for a chance to win this novel. Thanks for the opportunity.
Teddy Rose says
I added the link to the ARC Challenge post.
Dawn - She is Too Fond of Books says
Dar, this is a great review … you’ve piqued interest in a lot of your readers.
I was pleased to see in the comments that the author is working on a sequel; you’ll have you wish to learn more granted 🙂
I so enjoy reading books about other cultures and when there is a wonderful storyline and characters that is a extra bonus.
Great review! This book sounds like something I would love. I hadn’t heard of it before now, but am going to put it on my wish list. Thanks!
Gwendolyn B. says
What a wonderful review! It’s obvious you really enjoyed this book and it’s impossible for me not to be interested! Thanks for taking the time to post such an interesting review.
geebee.reads AT gmail DOT com
This book sounds like just the book for me – I love books set in Asia and books based on a true story.
Wow – this sounds great. I really loved learning more about Chinese history in Amy Tan’s The Bonesetter’s Daughter so I think I’d like this book too. Great review, Dar.
What an excellent review, Dar! This does sound like a great story!
Lloyd, thanks so much for stopping by and reading my review. I’m really excited to hear there is a sequel and I’ll definitely be watching for it.
Dorothy, thanks so much.
Ti, no I haven’t seen that movie but I’ll look into after reading this book.
Shana, I’ve never read The Bonesetter’s Daughter. I’m going to have to look into that one.
Everyone else, thanks so much for your comments on my review. They are much appreciated. I hope that from my review many of you will be interested enough to give this novel a read. I’d sure be interested in your opinions of it.
Those of you who have entered the contest-Good Luck!
Great review! Thanks for clarifying the comment about sexual content. When you realize who the character really is, it makes more sense. I saw another review in which the reader was really put off by the sexual content. Glad to know you learned something from the book, too.
Diary of an Eccentric