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. (from Goodreads)
This book came to me from a friend, who was giving away some of her books.
I took in most of them.
Now I have books for at least two years worth of reading.
This novel is written as some sort of memoire, so it’s narrated in first person by Yoshiko, an historical character I’ve never heard of before. The story of the real Yoshiko seems vertiginous for a woman at that time and at that place (China/Japan/Mongolia), and the writer did a good job placing her as an exception and a person way ahead of her time, mostly due to her unusual upbringing and the facts that 1) she more or less received an education normally reserved for boys and that 2) she was forced to adulthood too early in her life. How much of this is actually based on historical facts, I can’t say. I chose to read it mostly like a work of fiction, as it was hard for me to wrap my mind around everything that was happening. What can I say? My lifestyle is quite unimpressive and my wildest adventures are always related to unfortunate commutes. That’s why I read so much…
Is this a book I would have chosen in a bookstore for its cover or its argument? Probably not.
Did I like this book? Ehhh… I didn’t dislike it, but after a while the chapter’s cadence became repetitive, and every new element that came out to stir things up, got quickly absorbed into that monotonous rhythm. It’s just one of those books that leave me more or less indifferent, which is probably not a very nice thing to say about someone’s work, but that’s how I feel.