(c) 2005-2007 Oliver Bonten
Hodder & Stoughton
This book is an adventure story that takes place during the Boxer rebellion in China. It is reputed to describe the general situation of China and Westerners in China quite accurately, but the story itself is pure fiction.
It's a bit of a Wild West story transferred to the Wild East. A bunch of English people come to a country town in Manchuria on various businesses, and get entangled in love stories, trade, bear hunts and other activities.
Then the Boxers (their Chinese name is something like "Righteous Fists for Celestial Harmony", which the British had translated as "Boxers") come, and the real action starts. Like in a Shakespeare play, most of the characters die before the end of the book. But some survive.
With the exception of the British, most nationalities are probably portrayed a bit stereotypical in the novel. The German engineer is overly correct, a bit militaristic, and a dry and humourless fellow. The American missionary has eight children, is speaking in tongues and preaches (and lives) and ultimately old-testamentarian christianity. The Chinese are greedy, vicious and cruel.
The "Palace of Heavenly Pleasure" itself is an upper-class brothel in the said Manchurian country town, which is frequented by many of the wealthy Chinese and some of the foreign merchants, and which is somehow connected to all of the key players in the story.
There is a scene where the Westernes find sanctuary in the mission, but the Boxers demand that all Chinese in the mission are delivered to them, which reminds me of a scene in "The killing fields", where all Khmer have to be delivered from the french embassy. I see a lot of similarities between Boxers and Khmer Rouge, in their mindsets as well as their relative backgrounds. Perhaps it is another example of history repeating itself.
Other scenes are reminiscent of James Bond movies ...
It is a fascinating adventure book which, at the same time, gives some insight into imperial Chinese culture and the Boxer mindset. I've definitely enjoyed reading it.
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