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My Splendid Concubine Paperback – Feb 12 2009
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Top Customer Reviews
Lofthouse's Hart is not the idol that encyclopedias portray him as; he is a flawed man. Enticed into purchasing his first concubine, boat-girl Ayaou, Hart is at once disgusted and stirred by the thought of "taking bids on her virginity," but admits to himself that "it bothered him more that he found the idea tempting."
Regardless of the novel's title, Ayaou is not Sir Robert Hart's "concubine." For all intents and purposes, she is stolen property liberated by Hart from a rival. Hart's true splendid concubine is in fact Ayaou's little sister. Only fourteen years old, the blossoming Shao-mei is admittedly even more desirable than Ayaou. "I'm not a finished woman, but I am a woman." She slid her hands down the length of her nude torso to her vulva..."
My Splendid Concubine is rife with the sexual dalliances of a white man adrift in China ("What a strange night, a strange place and strange girls"). Lofthouse also plaits his page-turning story with amusing cultural anecdotes that surely must have come from the author's personal observations of China ("Live here long enough, see crazy things").Read more ›
Robert’s business acumen and strong communication skills brought him great success and he was soon promoted into more affluent positions. Soon, he gained a reputation of trust and respect from the highest levels of Chinese politicians, royalty, and officials. Despite his success, he struggled with his religious values and in the taking of concubines, a widely accepted practice among Caucasian men even though it was unacceptable in polite society.
Lloyd Lofthouse has written a “no-holds-barred” accounting of his tumultuous life. The author does not shy away from Hart’s strong sexual drive and encounters. He delves deeply into the relationships with Ayaou and her sister, bringing to life the heart-wrenching dilemma Hart faced. The author described the contrast between Hart’s sexual values and those of the women with great insight, for in China, being a concubine was far better than slavery or prostitution.Read more ›
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Hart travels to China in 1854 seeking to redeem himself after a shameful episode of wenching and carousing at college that embarrassed his family. He first meets Sir John Bowring, Governor of Hong Kong, who advises him to study everything around him in an effort to understand the Chinese and learn something new everyday. This is the only advice of its kind he receives from his own people, for Hart discovers that the rest of the Westerners view the Chinese culture with disdain and superiority. His first employer, for example, chastises him for trying to learn Mandarin, saying, "It is their place to understand us. We don't have to understand them."
While most of the British and American officials dismiss the Chinese as superstitious heathens, there is one part of the Chinese culture they are quick to assimilate: the taking of concubines. Hart finds it repugnantly hypocritical that his fellow countrymen should hold so little respect for the culture while indulging their own desires in a manner that Victorian society would condemn. He notes that, "on one hand the Europeans and British were shoving Christianity's message of brotherly love down the Chinese collective throat with the barrel of a rifle. At the same time foreign merchants, mostly British, were selling opium to the populace." Hart hopes to rise above such prejudice and lack of ethics, but finds himself sorely tempted by repeated opportunities to sample a service that the Chinese take for granted and the Westerners are perfectly happy to exploit.
And then Hart meets Ayaou, a fiery and courageous girl from the lowest sector of Chinese society, the boat people. Their startling and memorable introduction - which I will not reveal here - sparks a passion that takes the young Englishman by storm. Hart is willing to bankrupt himself to buy Ayaou from her father, who is selling her to provide for the rest of his family, but circumstances whisk her away and Hart finds himself compelled to buy her sister, rather than let the younger girl fall into undesirable hands.
Suddenly Hart owns a concubine, although not the woman he loves, and he is caught between his own Christian beliefs and the worshipful attention of young Shao-mei, who desperately wants to earn the love of her master. And what of Ayaou, who has been sold to the violent and unstable American mercenary soldier Frederick Townsend Ward? What ethics will Hart be willing to compromise in order to get her back?
Lloyd Lofthouse has created a rich cast of characters against the exotic and fascinating backdrop of nineteenth century China. Young Robert Hart is a sympathetic character who earnestly seeks to understand the Chinese culture in order to win acceptance there, and to find peace within his own soul. As Hart learns, so does the reader, for the author has skillfully woven lessons of the Chinese culture into the plot and setting. The girls, Ayaou and Shao-mei, are individually defined as characters and truly believable as sisters: sensually mature, playfully young, one moment presenting a united sisterly front, and the next moment squabbling with jealousy. And I have not even touched upon the pirates, the mercenaries, the opium dealers, and Hart's philosophizing eunuch servant! Don't pass up this debut novel by an author who will surely continue Robert Hart's saga and legendary career in a second novel.
I didn't even bother finishing the book, and frankly I'm annoyed at myself for buying the entire saga for my Kindle. If you are overcome by curiosity, check them out at the library so you don't feel like you've wasted your money on garbage.