Kathryn Hopewell is the wealthy daughter of William Hopewell, the head of the powerful Hopewell Trading house in Canton in the early 1900s. She has just stepped off the docks after completing business studies at Harvard University in America, and is off to a good start in what she believes will be her position of taking her father’s place as head of the trading empire. Alas, alack, gasp! An unforeseen circumstance has appeared! It turns out Kathryn’s father only sent her to Harvard because he had the money to burn and thought real university would knock that idea out of her silly little head. He has engaged her to a useless Australian named Collin McNeal, who will be the one taking over Kathryn’s hopes and dreams and who is apparently completely devoted to her, even though he has never met her.
There is unrest in China during this period. Warlords and generals vie for provinces and citizens are caught in the crossfire. Kathryn and her friend Lucy go shopping for one fateful day in a district outside their safe zone, and are captured.
Lucy, who is British, is (of course) snuffed out (in fact, anything not American is looked upon as slightly inferior in this cloying melodrama), but General Cheng Jiong’s nephew Wang Ti-wei (who is acceptable as a secondary character because he, too, has gone to school in America and has Americanized his name to Ty Wang before returning to China and getting embroiled in family and national politics) has fallen in love with Kathryn and protects her by offering to lead her to General Cheng’s home in the north where they will be free to escape and he can return her to her father.
Like Disney’s version of ‘Beauty and the Beast’, within three days, they have declared their undying love for one another, and become married in the peasant fashion (eat a meal and sleep in the same room together – which makes me wonder how many people I can claim as spouses today: all interested, come forth into my fold!)
The book ends with their arrival at General Cheng’s home of Shaoguan, which it turns out is actually Wang Ti-wei’s childhood home that was appropriated from him after his mother died. There they complete their final act of marriage, all in a rosy glow of prayer and Bible reading and endless repetitions every five seconds of his ‘sable’ eyes and her ‘teal’ ones.
This book attempts to produce a strong female character, and Kathryn is indeed feisty, but only through an arranged marriage can she receive her inheritance, even though she is more qualified, and the romanticization of the role Westernization played changing China forever, the fact that Ty has to be somewhat Western to be equal to Kathryn, is for lack of a better word, appalling, as though he could not have been legitimate without her as his wife, or she could not somehow have survived without a husband. The image below illustrates how I feel Troi uses Kathryn: she idolizes her – this ‘Chinaman’ is lucky to have her, and his many ninja-esque exploits only serve to feed into the fascination of the exotic that this book only uses as though to say, ‘What a fascinating time before they finally caught up with our American society’.
I give this book 2 stars out of 5, because the writing isn’t entirely terrible, but nothing more than that, for not only being sexist and racist and very ‘Murican, I could not believe the amount of times ‘sable’ was used to describe Ty’s eyes. There is such a thing as a thesaurus. His eyes could also have been ‘black’, ‘dark’, ‘ebony’, ‘jet’, ‘jetty’, ‘raven’, ‘dusky’ or ‘dusty’, but no, ‘sable’ was the only adjective used to describe them, and that was enough to lose at least one star. Don’t even get me started on the many other adjectives she could have used instead of ‘teal’.