Title: The Concubine’s Child
Author: Carol Jones
Published: April 23rd 2018
Publisher: Head of Zeus
Genres: Fiction, Historical
Rating: 5 stars
An evocative, multi-generational tale of a family haunted by the death of a young concubine in 1930s Malaysia.
In 1930s Malaya a sixteen-year-old girl, dreaming of marriage to her sweetheart, is sold as a concubine to a rich old man desperate for an heir. Trapped, and bullied by his spiteful wife, Yu Lan plans to escape with her baby son, despite knowing that they will pursue her to the ends of the earth. Four generations later, her great-grandson, Nick, will return to Malaysia, looking for the truth behind the facade of a house cursed by the unhappy past. Nothing can prepare him for what he will find. This exquisitely rich novel brings to life a vanished world – a world of abandoned ghost houses, inquisitive monkeys, smoky temples and a panoply of gods and demons. A world where a poor girl can be sold to fulfil a rich man’s dream. But though he can buy her body, he can never capture her soul, nor quench her spirit.
The Concubine’s Child is a seducing historical fiction novel. The front cover tagline promises an unforgettable story of lost love, betrayal and freedom. I promise you get all this and much more from The Concubine’s Child . This breathtaking novel transports the reader to 1930’s Malaya with a sense of ease. A generational focussed novel, The Concubine’s Child is a rich tapestry of family secrets that will enthrall readers far and wide.
Sometimes a book speaks to you even before you have the chance to read the first paragraph. This was the case with my experience of reading The Concubine’s Child. I had seen images of this novel floating around on my social media sites and I have been closely following the talented author of The Concubine’s Child. I knew I just had to get hold of this novel and read it for myself. Overall, I was taken aback by the rich narrative, vivid setting and haunting characters. Dual narratives are my favourite format of storytelling and The Concubine’s Child is a solid example of a dual narrative that works so well.
The Concubine’s Child is a magnificent testament to Malaya in times past, but also present day Malaya. Jones structures her novel around the sad story of a teenager, Yu Lan, who is sold by her family to a wealthy and higher class man, as a concubine. We discover that Yu Lan’s charge is desperate for an heir, so Yu Lan is both responsible for satisfying him sexually and she is also tasked with the duty of providing an heir. This is a story tinged with great sorrow as Jones outlines the pressure placed on young girls like Yu Lan, who were expected to leave their families, dreams and hopes of love for the sake of another. What haunted me most about this aspect of the story was the lack of choice for women, especially young women and adolescents in this not too distant past. It also highlights the class issues and the desperation, as well as duty faced by families of this region.
The secondary players that come into The Concubine’s Child add plenty of depth to the unfolding tale. From Yu Lan’s family, the Chan’s (the family who have purchased Yu Lan), the servants of the Chan household and of course the present day pivotal characters. Each and every one of these players has a commanding presence in this spellbinding tale. Jones does a fine job of outlining all her characters and their respective personalities. I have nothing but praise for Jones in this area, along with the rest of her novel.
It is often problematic to balance two different time frame narratives fairly, but Carol Jones achieves this successfully. I was enamoured by both the present and past storylines of this novel. I also firmly believe Nick and Sarah’s journey in the present is imperative to unlocking the secrets of the 1930’s based narrative. The modern day narrative offers a full bodied exploration into a marriage under strain, disconnection, the search family roots and identity. I loved the inclusion of the old and spirited house, once home to Yu Lan, but now in the care of her great grandson Nick. There were also some finer details connecting the past and present which I picked up on. I appreciated this delicate attention to detail.
Generally I am not a fan of supernatural narratives, superstitions and magical realism, but I make an exception for this novel, it worked so well within the pages of The Concubine’s Child. I will readily admit that I was utterly intrigued by these aspects. It is hard not to get caught up in Carol Jones’ representation of spirits, prayers to the gods, herbal medicines, offerings and the ancient symbols that pepper the pages of The Concubine’s Child. These all add an extra flourish to the unfolding tale.
Carol Jones is a well versed author in Malaya’s history, culture, customs, landscape, food and its people. This shines bright through all aspects of her novel and I relished these segments of The Concubine’s Child. Jones also manages to balance old Malaya with present day Malaya. I am only a little versed in this area after visiting last year, but I found that The Concubine’s Child made me hungry for more information. Thankfully, the author’s dedication to her research, which has been painstakingly drawn from a variety of sources, adds much value to this novel. The author also injects a sense of first hand understanding, thanks to her experiences of her own family history. All these factors work to ensure that The Concubine’s Child comes across as deeply authentic.
Some may say that this is story tinged with melancholy, oppression, unforgiving tradition and cruelty. I believe that this is offset by moments of hope, forgiveness and a positive look to the future in the form of a family legacy as the book closes. The Concubine’s Child is a superbly written piece of historical fiction that fuses together the past and the present, in one thought provoking tale. The Concubine’s Child has confirmed its place as one of my favourite historical based works this year. My genuine thanks go out to the author, Carol Jones, for bringing this immersive, high quality, truthful and absolutely riveting story to light. The Concubine’s Child is one story that I know will besiege me, long after saying goodbye to this novel. Highly recommended.
The Concubine’s Child by Carol Jones was published on 23rd April 2018 by Head of Zeus. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.
To learn more about the author of The Concubine’s Child, Carol Jones visit here.
*I wish to thank the author, Carol Jones for providing me with a free copy of this book for review purposes.
The Concubine’s Child, is book #92 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge