Girl from Junchow

The Girl from Junchow

by Kate Furnivall

I’m Kim Alexander and this is Fiction Nation. The book is The Girl from Junchow by Kate Furnivall.

Strange title but very evocative, and once you’ve read the book it all makes sense. This is the sequel to The Russian Concubine, which we talked about two years ago, in which we meet young street urchin and excellent thief Lydia Ivanova, who’s growing up wild on the streets of Junchow, China just before the Communist, Nationalist and Western forces all descended. Because this is meticulous historical fiction we also meet Lydia’s White Russian refugee mother Valentina and learn about her escape across Siberia to the relative freedom of the International Zone. And because this is a grand romance we meet Lydia’s beloved, future Communist freedom fighter Chang An Lo. Star crossed lovers kept apart by war and society? Check and check.

The Girl from Junchow finds Lydia jumping out of the fire of Chinese revolution into the even bigger fire of Stalinist Moscow. There’s a rumor her idolized/idealized father may not be dead after all — but in a gulag, so clearly the meter’s running. So Lydia and her cohorts — but minus Chang An Lo (who wouldn’t be much for the whole blending in thing) set off to break into a labor camp.

The background and the minor players aren’t as lushly gorgeous as those who wandered in and out of an opium haze in the first book, but as she usually does, Furnivall puts us there, she makes us feel the unbearable cold of a Moscow winter and the equally unsupportable decadence of the upper class. She’s also done loads of homework, and when Chang An Lo does show up, it’s for a good reason.

Lydia may be a bit idealized — she will literally walk through fire for her loved ones, so it’s good news that Furnivall has allowed her to grow up a bit. Her stubbornness has mellowed and she can actually be surprised with the motivation of those around her, where in the first book she barely noticed anyone but her beloved. The author says she’s not planning a third book so I can only imagine the kind of woman Lydia would have become and where she and Chang An Lo would have finally called home.

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