A Hundred Suns by Karin Tanabe

‘Off to the house of a hundred suns?’

Set in the French Indochinese (South-East Asia) colonial world of the 1930s, this novel combines romance, intrigue and some of the worst colonial excesses of the era. But the colonists won’t continue to have everything their own way.

One humid afternoon in 1933, the American-born Jessie Lesage arrives in Hanoi with her husband and daughter.  Her husband, Victor, is an heir to the Michelin rubber fortune.  Their daughter, Lucie, is young enough to quickly adapt to life in Indochine.  Jessie sees the move to Indochine as a new beginning: a world away from some secrets she’d rather keep in the past and an opportunity to increase family prosperity while the rest of the world sinks into depression.  The Michelin family have large rubber plantations near Saigon: wealth should be guaranteed, provided the family can weather a recent scandal.

Jessie makes friends with the fascinating Marcelle de Fabry, a French woman with a wealthy Indochinese lover.  Marcelle quickly introduces Jessie to the frenetic, privileged life of the French ex-patriates.  But Marcelle has a secret motivation, and Jessie is vulnerable.

While I know some of the colonial history of what is now Vietnam, this is the first novel I’ve read set in the colonial world of French Indochine. I found the contrast between excess and exploitation absorbing.  I confess that I found the setting more interesting than most of the characters, but I was intrigued by both Jessie’s journey and Marcelle’s motivation.

Recommended reading.

Note: My thanks to NetGalley and St Martin’s Press for providing me with a free electronic copy of this book for review purposes.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith