Russian Concubine

The Russian Concubine

by Kate Furnivall

An audio file of this program is available in mp3 format; click to listen.

I’m Kim Alexander and this is Fiction Nation. The book is The Russian Concubine by Kate Furnivall.

I hadn’t planned on reading this one at all, but when I opened the package and read the first two or three pages, everybody else had to wait. This is Ms. Furnivall’s first novel, and her passion for her subject and her love for her characters totally captured me. We open on the steppes of Siberia, with a small group of fleeing White Russians, among them the infant Lydia and her mother, the concert pianist Valentina.  The Bolsheviks are hot on their heels and not everyone in their desperate band survives the trip. The windswept wasteland gives way to 1928 China, and the International Settlement, a sort of down-at-the-heels Epcot for wayward Europeans. Valentina has turned to drink to help her forget her glamorous past, and counts on 16-year old Lydia to keep food on the table and a roof over their heads. The story is set in motion when Lydia — an accomplished pickpocket — steals an expensive watch from an Englishman. Although Lydia and her young Chinese boyfriend Chang are the main characters, Ms. Furnivall has populated this book with vivid, real, motivated people, all with so much to lose as China is up for grabs between the Nationalists, the Communists, the fading power of the warlords, and of course the forces of the West.

Kate Furnivall’s mother was the inspiration for this romantic, grand and dramatic novel, although she is quick to point out that her mother didn’t have a career as a pickpocket and general troublemaker like Lydia. It’s a time and place as exotic as any I’ve read about, and I couldn’t wait to ask Ms. Furnivall why she chose to tell this extremely ambitious story.


I’m Kim Alexander and this is a Fiction Nation minute. The book is The Russian Concubine by Kate Furnivall.

The story behind this book is almost interesting as the book itself — the author’s mother, much like the heroine of The Russian Concubine, spent part of her childhood in the International Settlement of China, having fled the Bolsheviks and the Russian Revolution. Unlike her mother, though, Lydia is a 16-year old troublemaker, a petty thief and practiced liar. Her adventures, and those of her Chinese boyfriend Chang, totally drew me into this deeply exotic world, where even poverty and hardship seemed somehow glamorous — although I think the author’s mother would probably disagree on that point! Kate Furnivall will be my guest this weekend to talk about writing The Russian Concubine. Listen at 6pm east Saturday and again at 10am east on Sunday. Fiction Nation is on Book Radio, SiriusXM Channel 80.


I’m Kim Alexander and this is a Fiction Nation minute. The book is The Russian Concubine, the debut novel by Kate Furnivall.

The lady of the title is Valentina, once a renowned concert pianist in Imperial Russia, now a dissolute good-time girl in the International settlement of 1928 China. Her daughter Lydia uses her skills at theft to keep a roof over their head while dreaming of being a proper English girl.  While Lydia is the heroine of The Russian Concubine, I was busy having a crush on Theodore Willoughby, her teacher who is secretly sexy and much more than he seems. This book is grandly dramatic in a sort of old fashioned way, terribly romantic, and gives us a carefully researched look at the lives of the westerners and Chinese who lived, fought, loved and died in a place and time I knew very little about. I am delighted the author is working on a sequel. The Russian Concubine by Kate Furnivall. I’m Kim Alexander and this is Fiction Nation on Book Radio, SiriusXM Channel 80.
 


I’m Kim Alexander and this is a Fiction Nation minute. The book is The Russian Concubine, the debut novel of Kate Furnivall.

It only took the first two or three pages and I was hooked on this book. Ms. Furnivall takes us on a beautifully detailed tour of the lives of some very different people, all thrown together in the International Settlement in China in 1928. I never knew there even was such a thing — it was like Epcot for foreigners. Along with the grand romance between young pickpocket Lydia and budding political activist Chang, we learn about the opium trade, the plight of women without papers — they couldn’t work or leave the country — and how China was fought over by Nationalists, Communists, warlords, and of course the looming power of the western world. Kate Furnivall is my guest this weekend and she talks about why The Russian Concubine was the book she had to write. That’s at 6pm east Saturday and 10am east on Sunday on Fiction Nation on Book Radio, SiriusXM Channel 80.


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