The Private Papers of Eastern Jewel
by Maureen Lindley
An electrifying epic, based on the incredible true story of a Chinese princess turned spy.
Peking, 1914. When the eight-year-old princess Eastern Jewel is caught spying on her father’s liaison with a servant girl, she is banished from the palace, sent to live with a powerful family in Japan. Renamed Yoshiko Kawashima, she quickly falls in love with her adoptive country, where she earns a scandalous reputation, taking fencing lessons, smoking opium, and entertaining numerous lovers. Sent to Mongolia to become an obedient wife, Yoshiko mounts a daring escape and eventually finds her way back to Peking high society—this time with orders from the Japanese secret service.
Based on the true story of a rebellious woman who earned a controversial place in history, The Private Papers of Eastern Jewel is a vibrant reimagining of a thrilling life—a rich historical epic of palace intrigue, sexual manipulation, and international espionage.
Quit after about 120 pages.
This is just AWFUL.
In The Private Papers of Eastern Jewel Maureen Lindley has managed to take the life of a real Chinese-princess-turned-Japanese-spy and turned it into a tawdry jumble of sexual escapades and self-centered whining. To take a life as interesting as Eastern Jewel’s and render it into little more than a celebration of Oriental exoticism is disappointing, to say the least.
The first major problem is Lindley’s narrative doesn’t quite ring with authenticity. Her descriptions of people and places have a strange detachment; objects and clothing might be detailed exquisitely but people and their personalities come across as flat and two-dimensional. I feel like there were very few attempts to understand the Chinese, Mongolian and Japanese cultures, and really bring them to life in the novel. Instead, Asia serves an exotic background that enables the author to unleash one sexual fantasy after another.
Eastern Jewel, later called Yoshiko in Japan, is too modern and too European in her ideas, so that one has to wonder how this personality would come about if she was raised first in a Chinese palace and later in a lax-but-still-thoroughly-Japanese household. She doesn’t make sense in her settings and surroundings. She insists from the very first page that she is unique, an individual, an outsider, and different from other women. This book, supposedly a memoir she wrote while jailed for spying, has Eastern Jewel showing off her “worldliness” and sense of style, and it comes off as both arrogant and annoying. For example, as she speaks of servant:
“Every day I sent her to the market for fresh flowers, as I hated to see even the smallest sign of decay on the lilies and the sprays of orange blossom that I favoured. I cared nothing for the extravagance and in any case I think that Miura sold on the day-old flowers to the nearby hotel that rented its rooms by the hour. As far as I was concerned she was welcome to the few coins she made from the transactions. I have always thought it a good policy to be a generous mistress. Envy and deprivation are the enemies of loyalty, after all.”
Oh yes, that generosity is the freakin’ epic. Somehow, I just don’t feel convinced that Eastern Jewel is the giving cultivator of beauty she imagines herself to be. Instead, she comes off as picky, spoiled, and utterly obnoxious to be around. It’s really hard to get into a character who thinks she is so wonderful and wise, and also refuses to see any flaws in her approach to life. If I can’t warm up to the character, and the plot has been shoved so far behind the main character’s personality that it barely appears…well, I just can’t enjoy the book.
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