The Private Papers of Eastern Jewel [Maureen Lindley]

Natsuko was beside herself with grief.  Swaying back and forth she knelt on the floor by her sister’s bedside weeping and moaning, her eyes red and swollen from crying.  Her daughters fluttered round her like a cloud of moths, making strange sibilant noises of shock.

Being a distant cousin of the Chinese emperor does not save young Eastern Jewel from being sent to Japan to live with a relative of her fathers, after she is caught watching him with a servant girl.

In Japan she duels with her adoptive mother and is eventually married of to a Mongolian prince, but not before Japan seeps into her soul.  She ends up in Shanghai where she spies on her fellow countrymen for the Japanese as they try to secure a foothold in China.

The Private Papers of Eastern Jewel is based on the real life story of Yoshiko Kawashima and narrated by her, an intriguing character who is hard to like, which left me struggling a bit at the beginning of the book.  She is incredibly manipulative and self serving, with scant regard for those she uses to further herself or her aims.  However Eastern Jewel is under no illusions about herself, who she is, what she wants out of life and when she sets a goal she holds no qualms about doing whatever it takes to achieve it.  She forms few close relationships in the book, with the most interesting being her step mother, Natsuko, who echoes through the book, long after Eastern Jewel has moved on.  Most other characters are used to further her aims or for pleasure, as Shanghai allows the darker side of her personality free reign, her only check being the disturbing dreams her conscience sends her throughout her life.

I have questioned if my dislike of Eastern Jewel was from her character, or perhaps because she has a traditionally male role, a self centred sexual philanderer who is driven purely by their ego.  I can’t think of another female character like Eastern Jewel in any other book I’ve read.  But I don’t think that is the case, had the character been male I would have had the same dislikes, it’s the characteristics that I disliked, more than the character.  Indeed I did find Easter Jewel fascinating, I admired her conviction to break out of her pre-destined role and how she bent her life around her will while at the same time acknowledging the dark parts of her own soul.  However the will that does not bend will break, and it is Eastern Jewels own determination that leads to her demise, but she and makes few, if any apologies along the way.

By passing the box to me Natsuko was sending me a cloaked message, one she knew I would understand.  At one and the same time it communicated her dislike of me and reminded me of my barrenness   For a brief moment she became splendid in my eyes.  I was reminded that women make more interesting enemies than men because of their subtlety and their ability to inflict exquisite, rather than brutal pain.

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