‘Better to be a rich man’s concubine than a poor man’s wife.’
In Kuala Lumpur in the 1930s, sixteen-year-old Yu Lan is the daughter of an apothecary. She dreams of marrying her friend Ming, whose father owns one of the busiest coffee shops in Petaling Street. She believes that Ming is waiting for the right time to ask his father. But Ming’s family do not see Yu Lan as a suitable wife for their son: her father Lim is a gambler. Lim decides to sell Yu Ming as a second wife, a concubine, to the ageing Towkay Chan. Towkay Chan is the wealthy owner of a tin mine whose wife has been unable to bear him an heir. Madam Chan becomes jealous of Yu Lan and makes her life even more difficult. After her son is born, Yu Lan tries to escape.
‘You must be fluid like water, for water defeats the strongest stone in time.’
Four generations later, Nick Chan in Hampshire, UK, is searching for his family history. An opportunity for Nick to work in Kuala Lumpur presents, and he takes it. Nick’s wife Sarah doesn’t accompany him, staying behind because of her own work and other commitments. And then, two years later, fate emerges to insert yet another twist.
Yes, Gentle Reader, there are links between past and present. Some of those links will seem obvious, some may seem improbable. But who can be sure, really sure, of how lives are shaped, of the influences of ancestors, of how destiny is decreed?
I was totally caught up in the story set in Kuala Lumpur, but for me the story lost some momentum with the shift to the UK. Even so, I found that I couldn’t put the novel down. I wanted to know how it would end. Yu Lan might only appear in part of the novel, but she casts a long shadow across the rest of it.
Note: My thanks to NetGalley and HarperCollins Australia for providing me with a free electronic copy of this book for review purposes.