This hefty volume offers an extensive view of the institution of courtesan houses in China,. its roler to provide pastime enjoyment for wealthy men. In elegant setting, carefully trained girls and women aged 14 or 15 to about 25 provided conversation, food and drink, instrumental and vocal music, dance, recitation of poetry and stories,The courtesan used her charms to elicit jewelry and money as tips for special favors, including sex. A clever courtesan's future might be to own and manage a house. As part of a rigidly structured society,a woman's choices were marriage, often as part of a hierarchy of wives, concubinage, a sort of secondary level monogamous relationship, or as a courtesan. Beyond these roles, probably the next in terms of some degree of security would be as servants. Excluded from these, the options were begging, theft, and prostitution.
It should be noted that none of these roles offered a woman any choice. In all, a woman was a purchase item. Only luck or cleverness might shield a woman from neglect or abuse. Better a wife than a beggar or whore, in terms of food and shelter. Not much to choose in terms of autonomy.
In this context, Tan creates a set of characters trying to make the best of the situation they've fallen into. This she does with her usual skill.
What prompts my cynical title is behaviors by the women more familiar in the Harlequin romance--the flouncing out, the pouting, the yearning for the handsome charmer. Or is this, I thought, listening to a book club discussion, intended to trigger our feminist outrage, 21st century style, to post-Imperial Republican China? In the end, a monumental research effort that provides the setting for too many examples of individual behavior, making for tedious reading about a fascinating cultural phenomenon.
A wonderful bunch of actors make this always fun. Ben Miller is a perfect fish out of water.
Goodwin is a thorough researcher and writes readable prose, which contribute to make this an important history of this period. Aside from getting to know a lot about two of our truly great leaders, there are wonderful details of where things were at the time--the US senators chosen by the state legislators, not by popular vote; the presidential candidate aloof from politics; his first public appearance his acceptance of his candidacy.(will we yearn for that over the next months?). Integral to the quality of the report,Goodwin describes the role of the reformist journalists, the so-called "muckrakers", centering on S. S. McClure and his assembly of writers.
First you think he's gutsy, if a little cantankerous, as he sets off in his pink slippers. Then you begin to suspect he's not exactly an admirable character. And then you just wait to see what he'll do next, and find yourself laughing out loud. The other characters are equally off-center, in this neatly ironic look at human existence
How often do we focus our attention on the events of World War II in Malaysia? This is a worthy introduction to the subject. The use of fiction allows the bringing together of persons from all aspects of life in that area at the time and after. Malaysia as the war began was a set of mostly British colonial sectors. Amid the Japanese invasion, there were also political movements and rumblings of an independence movement. The Afrikaaner tea planter is a veteran of the Boer War with no reason to approve of British rule except for business reasons. The Japanese gardener appears to have dissociated himself from Japanese imperial aspirations. Yun Ling, the Straits Chinese, who cannot speak Chinese, was educated in British mission schools, and is described satirically by a Malaysian as looking to England as her homeland. These people, living in proximity, furnish important elements in one another's lives over several generations. This is a rich tapestry of all the people and events and ambitions of a particular time and place. In the end, the reader is left with a set of acquaintances worth caring about, and some questions about the world we live in to ponder for a considerable time.