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From The CriticsThe success of this historical novel lies in its storytelling, and the colorful details of politically turbulent Malaya in the ’30s, ’40s and ’50s, the role of women in Chinese culture and the powerful influence of superstition and gods.
The novel, however, lacks vitality: The linear structure and expository prose undermine the story’s emotional impact. Particularly disappointing is the treatment of the forbidden love between Mei Kwei, a beautiful Chinese woman, and Father Francois Martin, a French Catholic missionary—the heart of the novel. Lacking the vivid detail found elsewhere in the book, their relationship consists of conversations alluded to, looks exchanged and scenes cut short in cinematic fashion, a regrettable lapse in an otherwise rich novel.