The Russian Concubine

The Russian Concubine

by Kate Furnivall


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A sweeping novel set in war-torn 1928 China, with a star-crossed love story at its center.

In a city full of thieves and Communists, danger and death, spirited young Lydia Ivanova has lived a hard life. Always looking over her shoulder, the sixteen-year-old must steal to feed herself and her mother, Valentina, who numbered among the Russian elite until Bolsheviks murdered most of them, including her husband. As exiles, Lydia and Valentina have learned to survive in a foreign land.

Often, Lydia steals away to meet with the handsome young freedom fighter Chang An Lo. But they face danger: Chiang Kai Shek's troops are headed toward Junchow to kill Reds like Chang, who has in his possession the jewels of a tsarina, meant as a gift for the despot's wife. The young pair's all-consuming love can only bring shame and peril upon them, from both sides. Those in power will do anything to quell it. But Lydia and Chang are powerless to end it.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780425215586
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 06/27/2007
Pages: 528
Sales rank: 190,725
Product dimensions: 5.52(w) x 8.25(h) x 1.09(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Kate Furnivall was born in Wales and currently lives in Devon, England. Married and the mother of two sons, she has working in publishing and television advertising. She drew inspiration for The Russian Concubine from her mother’s experiences as a White Russian refugee in China.

Reading Group Guide


At once a sweeping epic love story and a stunning literary debut, The Russian Concubine describes the lives of two generations of women, both struggling against their destiny. Valentina Ivanova, formerly counted among Russia's elite, watched as the Bolsheviks captured her husband. Able to purchase the life of her young daughter Lydia, Valentina takes her to Northern China, to the whites-only International Settlement, where, as a lounge piano player, she struggles to make ends meet in the only way she knows how… Now a teenager and possessed of a fierce spirit and wild independence, Lydia Ivanova meets the young Communist Chang An Lo after he saves her life, and falls in love with all of the passion in her young soul. With their relationship comes danger, from both sides of the political struggle, but both are powerless to end it.

"I read it in one sitting! Not only a gripping love story, but a novel which captures the sights, smells, hopes and desires of Russia at the dawn of the 20th century, and pre-Revolutionary China, so skillfully that readers will feel they are there." —Kate Mosse

"The wonderfully drawn and all-too-human characters struggle to survive in a world of danger and bewildering change…caught between cultures, ideologies—and the growing realization that only the frail reed of love is strong enough to withstand the destroying winds of time." —Diana Gabaldon


Kate Furnivall was born in Wales and currently lives in Devon, England. Married and the mother of two sons, she has worked in publishing and television advertising. She drew inspiration for The Russian Concubinefrom her mother's experiences as a White Russian refugee in China.

  • Despite her being a European girl, and therefore less than nothing to his people, Chang saves Lydia's life at the beginning of the novel. Why do you think he does so?
  • Lydia's stubborn bravery at the beginning of The Russian Concubine is described as foolhardy by many of the people she encounters. Do you agree with this assessment? Do you think that other people's opinion of her changes by the end of the book? Why?
  • How does Theo serve as a bridge between the Chinese and Western worlds he lives in? How does acting in that capacity take its toll on him towards the end of the novel?
  • Discuss the sacrifices and moral compromises that each character makes for what he or she believes is the greater good. For example, Theo becomes an opium runner in order to earn money to keep his school open, educating the European children in China. Do you think that the characters' actions in their respective situations help make them stronger people, or do their actions lessen them as humans?
  • Lydia and Chang get caught up in the turmoil of the political situation in the 1920s. Do you think that the poverty levels in China made it easy for young men to become Communists? Did the presence of the expatriate Russians make a difference in their political leanings? Discuss how Chang's Communist beliefs war with his love for Lydia.
  • Toward the end of the novel, Valentina reveals the secret of Lydia's scholarship to the Willoughby Academy. Do you think that her sacrifice for her daughter is an example of her strength as a mother, or her weakness as a woman?
  • When Lydia first meets Liev Popkov, she's facing him at a line-up after her lie regarding the stolen necklace at the Ulysses Club gets him arrested. Later, she hires him as her bodyguard, but their relationship develops into a friendship beyond employer/employee. Why do you think that Liev becomes so protective of Lydia after he meets her?
  • In many ways, Alfred is the first stable male influence in Lydia's life. What kind of life do you think Lydia would have led had Alfred entered her life earlier? Do you feel his nature/personality was as influential as his money? Does his money play a positive or a negative role in shaping their relationship?
  • The theme of freedom is prevalent throughout the novel. In what ways are Lydia and Chang caged, even before they are kidnapped by the Black Snakes? How does their love for each other help to set them free? Do you think that their relationship mirrors the political situation in China at all?

Customer Reviews

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Russian Concubine 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 87 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
If you're thinking there is a concubine in this book, you'd be wrong. Big disappointment. This was just nothing like I expected. The sample drew me in, but then, 11 years later, it all falls apart. I knew it was too good to be true. 503 pages for 5.99. I guess you get what you pay for.
jacki on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Interesting but not a quick read
sgsain on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Don't let the 500 plus pages scare you off. This story starts off with a bang and runs from there. The setting of post WWI China and the plight country-less White Russians made this story fascinating. Despite the fact that I found the central romantic characters to be too young to be believable, I became caught up in the drama of their lives and times. There are Chinese gangsters, Russian royalty reduced to crushing poverty, Chinese communist fighters, and English bureaucrats to name a few of the characters. It's a portrait of a society in transition. Making this even more fascinating is that the author based the story on the history of her own grandmother. I'm looking forward to reading the sequel and prequel to this story.
busyreadin on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Fair story of Russian immigrants in China. interesting characters. I really didn't feel the title fit the story, though.
sds6565 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
What a good book! Looking at the book cover, and the book title, you expected something else. This book had meat! Good dialogue and a gripping story line. I liked the ending of the book. The character Lydia faced incredible challenges and fought for who she believed in. Her lover faced his own challenges. In the end they parted, but the author left the door open, for them to meet again. What a good book it would be.
debnance on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Not a book I'd have chosen myself. I was given the book to read by a volunteer at school. The cover and the title are quite provocative. The actual story is much less so. This book tells the story of a woman who left Russia during the Russian Revolution and found refuge in China with her daughter. It was definitely a page turner; Furnivall knows how to tell a story.
Jacey25 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A very interesting tale of a russian thief. Only three stars because the ending was abrupt and didn't tie things up; it felt rather like the suthor ran out of characters. This is another one of those books that is billed as a love story but I would argue is more an intersting tale of people. The mother daughter relationship is as well fleshed out as the love story and just as interesting. The secondary subplot involving the girl's teacher felt unpolished though. The author writes a good story with much promise but sadly never seems to finish the tale. *Note that much of the story seems to be lifted from the life of her grandmother per the author.
joririchardson on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
"The Russian Concubine" is a book that I thought long and hard over when trying to rate it. Did this book deserve a meager 2 stars for its writing style and attempted romance? Or was this book a lofty 4.5 stars, for the rich picture of China it gives the reader?In the end, I settled on 4 stars because, in the end, despite its flaws - I really enjoyed reading this book. Is it unforgettable literature? No.Would I buy it? No.But, for 3 days of on and off reading, it was good entertainment.Set in 1928 Jungchow, China, this book is about Lydia, a young Russian girl who immigrated there as a child with her mother. Lydia spends her days going to a school that her mother cannot afford, pickpocketing on the Chinese streets, and struggling to get by in her poor community. Her life changes drastically when she meets Chang An Lo, a brave young Communist code-breaker. Lydia becomes caught up in Chang's idea of freedom and equality, and despite their differences in culture, feels increasingly drawn to him.So first of all - the title for this book is misleading.Was there a concubine in this book? No. Was the word "concubine" even mentioned once? No. It is not even applicable, unless lightly to Lydia's mother. I always feel that this is false advertising, and it annoys me.Kate Furnivall's writing hovers on the line of very good, and very bad.She describes the rich, exotic setting of China realistically and lushly, down to the sounds, smells, and feel of the culture. I loved the way that this book brought China to life.However, instead of relying on her writing, she constantly describes China itself as "exotic" or "dangerous" or "strange," as if reassuring herself or the reader that this is what her descriptions are suggesting.There are countless times in the book where any given character (perhaps even all of them) somehow all have the same thought, something along the lines of "....but this was China, a dangerous and exotic country...." or "China was a world that was exotic and beautiful, but dangerous underneath..."All of these versions of stating the obvious (as if the writer is saying to herself "They got that, didn't they? Hmm... Maybe I better write it in outright terms - again.") got old and extremely annoying.Lydia's relationship with her love interest, Chang An Lo, was just a mess. It simply did not work.Calling this a love story is laughable. Lydia never even has any romantic feelings for Chang until hundreds and hundreds of pages into the book (well over halfway through). Before that, she simply feels "responsible for" him. If Lydia and Chang really were in love, it certainly does not translate into the story.It is incredibly superficial and cliche, without any passion whatsoever.When Lydia wants to run away with Chang, I found myself hoping that he would say no, because I just saw them as a casual fling, and didn't even like Chang.However - once again - the author baffles the reader.Though Lydia's relationship with Chang is horribly written and flat, the other relationships in the book are well written and inspiring. The way that Lydia and her mother are so close, and yet so far apart, is a complex and touching mother-daughter relationship. Lydia's hatred of her stepfather, which of course gradually turns to trust and loyalty, is also well drawn, if not a bit cliche.Which leads to another point - this book is very cliche. The character of Lydia - independent, overly snippy, and completely modern - is the typical chick-lit or cheap romance heroine.Not much about this book WASN'T cliche, and none of it was unexpected.And finally, what annoyed me most was the ending of this book. All of sudden, a character was conveniently done away with, a mysterious letter appeared, and a great secret is uncovered! And then, the book ends. I felt that this was a cheap, tacky trick, and it is highly unlikely that I will be looking for the sequel.All in all - This book is great entertainment, but be careful not to look too deeply at it, or you will b
candamyr on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I read so many conflicting reviews about this book I decided to throw them all in the wind and see for myself. And I'm glad I did. Tastes are so different, the definition of a good read is so different for every person that books like this will always get everything from zero to five stars - because it doesn't fit any mould!What is this book about? Not just one single thing. There is not just one single plot. Who is this book about? Not just one single person. Not even just one couple or one pair of linked people. This book is about Lydia first and foremost, but essentially it is about her mother too, and Theo, and Chang An Lo, and Mr. Mason, and all their relationships with each other, the developing stories between them, love stories, stories of hatred and violence, then, the different societies they belong to and how they, even though world's apart, still intermingle, the good and the bad and the grey in between that comes of all these interactions. It can be confusing, yes. This is not a book for single minded people...This is a great story with nicely fleshed out characters that believably develop (in themselves and their relationships) in an interesting setting regarding time and place, and all in a writing style that flowed well for me. The only things that annoyed me: the title doesn't befit the story (I'd love to hear an explanation from the author about her choice of title - who's the concubine and why?) and the hurried ending. Granted, it was meant to lead to the sequel (which by the time of the book's release was surely already planned, so I don't quite understand the animosities of some people here) but it could have been more detailed, like the rest of the book.I highly enjoyed this book, it was a great read for me, and I will be reading "The Girl from Junchow" next.
eenerd on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Very interesting and action-packed book about the relationship between a White Russian refugee girl and a Chinese Communist boy in Jungchow, China during the 1920's. Lots of uptight Englishmen, Russian ex-aristrocracy, cautious Chinese and gangsters from all sides. The cultural melting pot keeps it interesting, the characters are varied although at times a little predictable, but not terribly so. The story is very rich, can be gruesome and gets pretty steamy near the end. All in all a fun read.
Kasthu on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I probably shouldn¿t even be writing this review, as I didn¿t finish it. Well, I got through 350 pages before throwing in the towel, but only because I had nothing else to read with me at the time. I was intrigued by the premise, about a young Russian girl in China in the 1920s, and her relationship with a native Chinese. But from there, it quickly went downhill.First of all, the prose is pretty overwrought, littered with one-word, repetitive sentences that were very choppy. There were lots of writing clichés (of the ¿he could feel into her soul¿ variety¿). The writing actually gave me a headache at some places.There were also problems with the plot and characters. I simply didn¿t feel emotionally invested in any of these characters¿ stories, particularly Lydia, who grated on my nerves (and if the author mentioned her flame-red hair one more time, I thought I was going to throw the book at the wall!). She didn¿t ever seem to be her age, and I didn¿t find her relationship with Chang to be all that believable. Nor did I really believe her mother¿s character, which was more cliché than anything; and I though Theo Willoughby¿s story was really random and out there, and not truly important to the plot¿which I kept searching for, but in vain. Take these characters and put them in a different setting, and you would probably have the same novel, honestly.A lot of things happen in this novel, but it seems to be more inertia than anything¿a lot of it doesn¿t seem to advance the plot by much. Plus, there were a lot of inconsistencies¿Lydia and Valentina can hardly afford to feed themselves, but the rabbit SunYat-sen is in absolutely blooming health. There¿s a lot of gratuitous violence, too. Nor does the author seem to know much about Russian or Chinese culture and history. A huge disappointment, especially since this novel seemed promising.
kck on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I did not even finish this. It is awful...poorly written and difficult to get through. I only read about half.
webgeekstress on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I well and truly detested the main character: Lydia is a spoiled and amoral brat, and her love for Chang felt completely artificial. And the ending has "sequel coming" written all over it, which almost always irritates me. (At least, it does in books that I don't like!)I rated it as highly as I did only because I found the setting so unusual.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Kept me involved until the end
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
StacieRosePittard More than 1 year ago
I rarely give five stars to a book. This one, however, had something special and unique that is often lacking in modern novels. First of all, the story was exciting, beautiful, and rich with well researched history. I was glued to every page, constantly needing to know what would happen next. At the same time, I was also enchanted by the love story which was unique and different from typical love stories you often find in novels, all weaved within a historical context that brought new knowledge to my attention (I learned a good deal of history that I didn't realize before). What truly makes this story stand out from others is the fact that the author did not fit her characters into the literary boxes that so many authors do. The protagonists were not perfect. They had human flaws and made human mistakes. They were not boring, because they were real. At the same time, the darker characters who would be considered "bad" had depth to them as well...they had a hard time completely fitting into the category of "villain", because they were still human. The fact that the author stepped out of the boundaries modern literature has formed helped to create an interesting story. As I read I didn't know what to expect or how this book was going to be resolved, because it was so unlike the typical over used story line. This is what earns a book five stars in my opinion, and I wish more authors took the creative risks this author did. If I had one complaint about the book, it would simply be that a couple of the more minor story lines were not resolved in the end. However, I feel as if that may have been intentional. This book was so real and life like, that I believe the author intended to leave some of the story lines open, just as we're never fully sure how life will resolve itself. Even so, she did this in a way that still gave readers a satisfying ending.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Very good read! Looking forward to reading the rest of the series.
Jo2 More than 1 year ago
Thoroughly enjoyed this book so much, bought the sequel. I feel it is well written and learned quite a bit about the discord between China and Russia during this time period.
Jessie_V More than 1 year ago
The first book in the series, "Jewel of St. Petersburg", is a little slow in the middle but then gets really good and this book, despite its' name, are absolutely fantastic!
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Kathy Nguyen More than 1 year ago
I highly recommend this to anyone who likes a historical romance with twists and turns fueled by a political backdrop
Anonymous More than 1 year ago