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Historical Fiction set in Nagasaki, Amsterdam and Plymouth

18th April 2013

The Gilded Fan by Christina Courtenay, fiction set in Nagasaki, Amsterdam and Plymouth.

1781890080.01.ZTZZZZZZThis delightful story opens in Japan in the early 1640s where the Emperor is purging anyone of mixed race. Midori, daughter of a daimyō, whose mother, Hannah is British, is forced to consider her own safety. In order to save her own life she has to flee the country. To that end she gets herself aboard the ship, the Zwarte Zwaan, heading for Amsterdam, with the help of her half brother Ichiro (full blooded Japanese and therefore not under threat of execution).

Nagasaki and the island of Dejima, to which the foreign traders are confined, is superbly brought to life, as is life and its hardships on board ship. Captain Nico steers the vessel towards Amsterdam, with a brief stopover in Batavia (Jakarta today). More than half a year later the ship docks in Holland, where Midori spends time getting to know Nico a little better, but the two proud people confound each other in their attempts to get closer – the colour and bustle of Amsterdam as an important trading post for the Dutch East Indies is beautifully brought to life.

And then on to Plymouth, at its most grey and dour, where Midori’s English family is based. From the colour and delight of the other places, the writing now evokes the greyness of this city at the time of the brewing Civil War. Midori’s family turns out to be strictly puritanical, and this is where the book struggles to keep up the previous exciting momentum – no doubt reflecting the parsimonious rhythm of life, the cheeseparing and the strictures of everyday life. The writing at this juncture feels like the pottage that graces the dinner table, monochromatic and a little hard to digest. But overall an engrossing read that just transports you back in time and place.

If you like The Gilded Fan then we recommend The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet – also set on Dejima Island, one hundred or so years later than Christina’s novel.

0340921587.01.ZTZZZZZZBe transported to a place like no other: a tiny, man-made island in the bay of Nagasaki, for two hundred years the sole gateway between Japan and the West. Here, in the dying days of the 18th-century, a young Dutch clerk arrives to make his fortune. Instead he loses his heart.

Step onto the streets of Dejima and mingle with scheming traders, spies, interpreters, servants and concubines as two cultures converge. In a tale of integrity and corruption, passion and power, the key is control – of riches and minds, and over death itself.

 

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