Skip to main content

Review: The Lacquer Lady, by F Tennyson Jesse

Pages: 383

Original date of publication: 1929

My edition: 1979 (Virago)

Why I decided to read: discovered it browsing the master list of Virago Modern Classics

How I acquired my copy: another Librarything member sent it to me, August 2010

The Lacquer Lady is set in 1870s and ‘80s Mandalay, in the time period leading up to the British takeover of Burma. Fanny Moroni is one part Italian, one part Burmese, who goes to school in England and returns to a country in a fair amount of turmoil. When King Mindoon dies, Thibaw becomes king, thus beginning rather disastrous seven-year period culminating with the British takeover of Burma and the ending of the Konbaung dynasty. Fanny enters into this sphere by becoming a lady-in-waiting to his Queen, Supaya-lat—who gives proof to the saying that behind every powerful man is an even more powerful woman.

At first, getting into this book was slow going—I wasn’t all that interested in Fanny’s time in England. The novel got much more interesting when Fanny and Agatha went to Burma, for it’s in Burma that Fanny really started jumping off the page. She’s not the most appealing main character I’ve ever read about (Supaya-lat is much more interesting, and I wish that the author had focused on her more), but she’s got a lot of gumption nonetheless. I enjoyed the contrast between Fanny’s exoticness and Agatha's typical Englishness.

What I especially loved about this novel were the author’s descriptions of Burma—it’s almost like a character itself. You really get a feel for the period in which the novel is set, and you get an idea of the relationships between the native Burmese and the kala (foreigners)—British, French, Italians, Americans, etc. F Tennyson Jesse, a great-niece of the poet, was a journalist, but she really had a talent for writing historical fiction as well. If you can get your hands on a copy of this novel, do; it’s a really smart fictional telling of one of the more important moments in Burmese history. It’s all the more remarkable considering that many of the people in this novel were real.


Han Kyi said…
I am from Myanmar, and someone who wanna dig our country's monuments. I am looking for that book for a long time, but I can't get one. Our country has not just established e-trade and so I can't afford to buy that book, and so I have to look for free pdf format. It will be so kind if you post me some copy if you have one. My mail is

Pardon me if I am bothering you...

Popular posts from this blog

Review: Forever Amber, by Kathleen Winsor

Pages: 972 Originally published: 1944 My edition: 2000 (Chicago Review Press) How I acquired my copy:, 2004

Forever Amber takes place in the 1660s, immediately follwing Charles II's ("the Merry Monarch") return of the Stuarts to the English throne. The book features Amber St. Claire, a young woman who starts out as a sixteen-year-old country girl, naieve to the workings of the world. She immediately meets Bruce Carlton, a dashing young Cavalier, with whom she has a passionate love affair in choppy intervals throughout the book. They have two children together, but Bruce won't marry her for the reason he tells his friend Lord Almsbury: that Amber just isn't the kind of woman one marries.

Upon following Bruce to London, he goes to Virginia, leaving her to fend for herself. What follows is a series of affairs and four marriages, with Bruce coming back from America now and then. Amber's marriages are imprudent: her first husband is a gambler, her second is…

Review: Jane Austen's Letters, ed. by Deirdre Le Faye

Pages: 667 Original date of publication: 2011 My copy: 2011 (Oxford University Press) Why I decided to read: How I acquired my copy:, April 2013
This is a compilation of many of Jane Austen’s letters, most of them sent to her sister Cassandra between 1796 and 1817, the year of her death. Although many of Austen’s letters were destroyed by her sister in order to preserve the family reputation, the collection contains over 160 letters in which Austen gives her sister details about her life in Chawton—as well as giving us a tantalizing glimpse of what was going through her mind as she was writing her novels (especially the novel that was to become Pride and Prejudice, First Impressions). There are other letters here, too, giving advice to her niece and professional correspondence to publishers—as well as a couple of letters that were written by Cassandra Austen after Jane’s death.
To the sisters, the letters acted in the way that phone calls do today; Austen’s news is all about pe…

Review: Midnight in Peking, by Paul French

Pages: 259 Original date of publication: 2013 My copy: 2013 (Penguin) Why I decided to read: How I acquired my copy: Phoenix bookstore, May 2013
In January 1937, the body of a young British girl, Pamela Werner, was found near Peking’s Fox Tower. Although two detectives, one British and the other Chinese, spent months on the case, the case was never solved completely, and the case was forgotten in the wake of the invasion of the Japanese. Frustrated, Pamela’s father, a former diplomat, tried to solve the crime. His investigation took him into the underbelly of Peking society and uncovered a secret that was worse than anything he could have imagined.
At first, I thought that this would be a pretty straightforward retelling of a true crime, but what Paul French (who spent seven years researching the story) reveals in this book is much more than that. Foreign society in Peking in the 1930s was stratified, with the British colonials at the top and the White Russian refugees at the bottom, but…