Lydia Ivanova is in a precarious situation: she and her mother, Russian refugees living in China, can barely afford the most basic of necessities. Without citizenship – Russian or Chinese – the mother and daughter duo have few options. Some might wilt under the pressure of need, but Lydia blossoms, drawing on a bottomless well of strength. The scrappy girl turns to the streets for answers, fighting and clawing her way to freedom. As independent and tough as she becomes, Lydia becomes equally beautiful, attracting underground Communist Chang An Lo. Perhaps forbidden love is just as powerful as desperation.
Plot Overview: Love, Communism and Survival
Lydia lives in a small apartment in the Russian section of the International Settlement of Junchow with her mother, a beautiful concert pianist who self-medicates with vodka. To escape the instability of her home life, Lydia relies on her best friend, Polly; unfortunately, Polly also has a dark secret involving her father, a man who plays a menacing role in Lydia’s life. Between dealing with her mother and her friend, Lydia seeks out a relationship with Chang An Lo, a mysterious fighter who once saved her life.
In 1928 China – and Junchow – is on the brink of war: Communists are secretly gathering, and Chiang Kai-Shek’s Nationalists are preparing for battle. In the midst of this chaos, drug lords are gathering power wherever possible. One in particular, Feng Tu Hong, is linked not only to Lydia and Chang An Lo, but also to Lydia’s teacher, Theo Willoughby. When Lydia is kidnapped, both Theo and Chang An Lo, heroes in a tale of violence and immorality, come to her rescue.
Criticisms and Compliments
The Russian Concubine paints graphic descriptions of China that are almost merciless in their frankness; in contrast to these harsh depictions, however, Lydia appears honest and pure, a beacon of integrity. Furnivall’s characterization of her propels this slow-moving story forward, making Lydia one of the bravest, most passionate women of romance and historical fiction. Chang An Lo is also the perfect complement to brash Lydia; he is the blue to her red, the calm and the loving. He, unlike anyone else in Lydia’s life, provides unconditional love and support. A gift in any circumstance.
Furnivall’s depictions of Chinese culture are both accurate and, at times, humorous. Her innate understanding of the relationship between the Chinese and foreigners – especially during the 1920s, when The Russian Concubine was set – further enhances the color of the story. As a whole, The Russian Concubine is a thrilling, romantic novel, perfect escapist fare.
- Furnivall, Kate. The Russian Concubine. Berkley Trade, 2007 ISBN 9780425215586