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Yellow Emperor's Cure

Overview

The richly woven, page-turning story of family ties, impossible love, and being a foreigner in a dangerous land

In a breakout novel that transports the reader to a brilliantly imagined, sensuously portrayed, dangerous point in history, Kunal Basu has written the tale of a man's journey that spans continents--and the limits of his faith in science. Lisbon, 1898: Antonio Maria, surgeon and notorious playboy, returns home after a long absence to learn his beloved father has ...

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Yellow Emperor's Cure: A Novel

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Overview

The richly woven, page-turning story of family ties, impossible love, and being a foreigner in a dangerous land

In a breakout novel that transports the reader to a brilliantly imagined, sensuously portrayed, dangerous point in history, Kunal Basu has written the tale of a man's journey that spans continents--and the limits of his faith in science. Lisbon, 1898: Antonio Maria, surgeon and notorious playboy, returns home after a long absence to learn his beloved father has syphilis, the scourge of both rich and poor. Determined to find a cure, Antonio sets sail for Peking, to study under the evasive but renowned Dr. Xu. But Dr. Xu does not intend to give away his knowledge, and Antonio suddenly falls in love with his assistant, the elusive Fumi. The threat of the advancing Boxer rebellion hangs over the Summer Palace, and Antonio and Fumi must decide whether to flee together or remain in China.

Kunal Basu's lush, haunting tale invites comparisons to Michael Ondaatje's best work. This superb novel conjures a man discovering the love that will force him to question everything.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Basu (The Opium Clerk) taps the simmering anger and uprising of the Boxer Rebellion in 1900s Peking, China, in this convoluted historical novel. Intent on finding a cure for syphilis after learning that a relative has contracted the disease, Portuguese national Dr. Antonio Maria travels with a Western legation to China to learn the Yellow Emperor’s Canon. Under the tutelage of Dr. Xu, physician to the empress, Antonio learns about qi and yin and yang. Separated from the legation, he falls in love with Xu’s assistant, Fumi, and finds himself stuck between his legation loyalties and the growing romance with the Chinese woman and her Eastern ways of treating illness. Mysteries surround Fumi and Xu both, but by the time Antonio unravels them it’s too late to avoid involvement in the dangerous rebellion. While the novel is full of mystery, romance, and cultural details, only the historical aspects feel fully realized. The romance thread plays more like a device used to reveal character rather than a natural relationship, and the bald xenophobia of the legation as well as Antonio’s own arrogance makes for a cast of unlikable characters. (Oct.)
Library Journal
When Dr. Antonio Maria unexpectedly learns his physician father is dying of syphilis in Lisbon, he sets sail for China in search of a cure. Unfortunately, the country is in the midst of the Boxer Rebellion, and outsiders are not welcome. Basu (The Japanese Wife) shows us Antonio's hopeful yet frustrating encounters with Dr. Xu and his assistant, Fumi, with whom Antonio eventually has an obsessive affair. What starts off as an interesting premise gradually wears thin with the introduction of additional characters and minor story lines, and Basu's writing loses its punch. Secrets about the initial characters revealed toward the end of the work help to renew some interest. VERDICT This loosely historical journey back in time tries too hard to become a novel of mystery and intrigue. Readers will need to decide for themselves whether discovering the startling secret at the end is worth their time and patience.—Shirley N. Quan, Orange Cty. P.L., Santa Ana, CA
Kirkus Reviews
This richly painted literary novel brings a Portuguese doctor to 19th-century China to find a cure for syphilis.

In 1898, Doctor Antonio Maria is one of Portugal's best doctors, but when his widowed father becomes desperately ill with syphilis Doctor Maria will do anything, go anywhere to find a cure to save his father's life. With reason to believe the Chinese have a cure, he leaves his fiancée behind and sails to China, devoting himself to learning medical secrets from a man named Xu. The trouble is that Doctor Maria must live in China for four seasons and learn the ways ofqibefore Xu will teach him what he wants to know. In the meantime he falls in love with Fumi, a mysterious woman with close ties to the Empress Dowager. Will he find the cure in time to return home and save his father? Or find it and return to Portugal before the West-hating Boxers kill him and all the other foreigners? Does Xu evenknowthe cure, or is he simply stringing Doctor Maria along for his own purposes? Can he meet the Empress and enlist her help? People are not who they seem as Doctor Maria immerses himself deeply in a strange and complex culture. Readers will get vicarious pleasure as he learns an array of sexual positions from Fumi. Occasional passages are briefly confusing as the narrative dips in and out of nightmares, but ultimately they help the story. For a man with an urgent mission, Doctor Maria seems incredibly patient, even distracted, as he navigates the ways of a world in which he is often the unwelcome outsider.

Many people suffer losses in this novel, a deeply satisfying tale mixing history, cultural clashes, violence and love. Fortunately, it's the readers who win.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781590207086
  • Publisher: Overlook Press, The
  • Publication date: 10/27/2011
  • Pages: 320
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Kunal Basu was born in Calcutta and has traveled widely. He is the author of three other novels, The Opium Clerk, The Miniaturist, and Racists, and a book of short stories, The Japanese Wife. He teaches at Oxford University and is married with one daughter. Visit kunalbasu.com.
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