I’m the kind of person that doesn’t like traditional historical fiction novels. What I mean to say is that there comes a point when you get tired of reading about the same incident from the same perspective. Yes, whatever happened was sad and the pain that was inflicted upon people because of this event should be acknowledged. But as someone who loves to read, I am always looking for something new and exciting, something that I feel can “revolutionize” the genre. That is what this novel did for me.
It is the year 1862, a time when countries are becoming expansive in their trade for commodities. Emanuel Belilios is a young Jew from Calcultta who is eager to get into the opium trade and make his fortune. He leaves behind his dutiful Jewish wife Semah and sets out for Hong Kong, where the market is bustling. There, he makes the acquaintance of two business partners. As he grows into a respectable and successful merhant, Emanuel falls in love with the daughter of his Chinese business partner – who is 20 years younger than him. He offers her a magnificent mansion as a wedding present and the two settle down to create a life together. Then Semah arrives unannounced from Calcutta to see her husband and take over as the mistress of this mansion. From that moment on, life will change irrevocably for all three of them.
One thing that really drew me to this novel was that it is based on the author’s own ancestors. Family history is one of the most interesting stories to read about, in my opinion, and the author did a masterful job of portraying the struggles of every person involved. I loved reading about the opium trade and seeing how Emanuel grew and prospered in this environment. I also loved both of the women. It is clear from the start that they are the main characters in the story, and they propel the story along its course. Each wife is unique, yet the same in her desires and feelings. Neither wife can be faulted for anything that happens. Their interactions with each other and their emotional states are palpable to the reader and just makes the story come alive. I truly enjoyed reading every minute of this novel because it was just such a beautifully imagined event. This is by far one of my favorite historical fiction novels of all time, and if you are a fan of the genre, then I strongly urge you to read it!