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.