Sunday, March 7, 2010
Our Hart: Elegy for a Concubine by Lloyd Lofthouse
'Our Hart' is the continuation of the fictionalized account of the real person, Robert Hart. In 'My Splendid Concubine' he was an interpreter for the British Consulate in China. He fell in love with two concubines, Ayaou and her younger sister Shao-mei. At the end of the book, Shao-mei, was killed by someone out to get revenge on Robert.
In 'our Hart', Robert and Ayaou grieve over Shao-mei and Robert tries to better protect Ayaou. As his career grows, so does his family. Ayaou has children and their eunuch servant, Guan-Jiah becomes a surrogate uncle for the children. Robert became the deputy commissioner of customs for the Ch’ing dynasty in his late 20's. and it kept him away from his family for long stretches at a time. He was indispensible to the dynasty and work for them in to his senior year. They fondly referred to him as "Our Hart".
Our Hart is the story of Robert's lifelong career in China and his relationship with Ayaou and his lifetime servant, Guan-Jiah. Lloyd Lofthouse does a great job pacing the story and keeping the reader engaged. I thought the story got a bit repetitive with Ayaou's whining and questioning Robert's love but other than that it was a great story. Note, that I read an uncorrected proof, so perhaps some of Ayaou's whining was reduced.
Though 'Our Hart' could be read as a standalone book, I highly recommend that you read 'My Splendid Concubine' first, as it gives you quite a bit of background that makes 'Our Hart' a richer read. I highly recommend both of these books to historical fiction lovers who are interested in Chinese culture.
If you are interested in learning more about the books, Robert Hart, and China, Lloyd Lofthouse has a blog with some great links to explore. It is called, Learning China.