What's the Name of That Book??? discussion

UNSOLVED: One specific book > Historical Fiction - Marriage between two Brits living in colonial Indo-China, Opium War era

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message 1: by Laina (last edited Jul 15, 2017 07:52PM) (new)

Laina (lshockley) | 188 comments I am looking for a book that I read once, and enjoyed. Unfortunately, I can't remember the title or the author!

The protagonist is a young woman, probably early 20s. She marries a dashing world traveler, and sails from England to ... (not sure, a British colony somewhere in the Indo-China region I think) to join her new husband, who has traveled ahead of her. Only to arrive in wherever, and discover that she is more of a decoy wife, and her husband actually has a mistress amongst the native peoples of the area, perhaps she was called the River Queen. He disappears up the river on a regular basis.

At some point there is a malaria or cholera epidemic, or it may have been a flood or other natural disaster, which wipes out most of the community. The book explores how she lives in this land, the habits and customs of the native people, and the tension between the foreigners and the natives, and also the relationship between her and her husband. It was set in the time of the Opium Wars.

I believe the cover of the edition I read was primarily a landscape, including some water, and no people (or only included incidentally.) The author was male, and it was not his first book.

I think this book was published between 1995 and 2005 2004. Any suggestions are much appreciated!

I read this book sometime between 2000 and 2004.

Love in the Time of Cholera
The Painted Veil
James Clavell
Amitov Ghosh
Elizabeth Darrell
Emma Drummond
Noel Barber

message 2: by Gini (new)

Gini (camp80) | 59 comments Hi! I'm sure this isn't the book but your description reminded me of The Painted Veil

message 3: by Pogue (new)

Pogue (nulaanne) | 113 comments You might want to check out books by James Clavell. He wrote a lot of books on the Asia, and this sounds like something he would have written.

Themis-Athena (Lioness at Large) (themis-athena) | 71 comments Gini wrote: "Hi! I'm sure this isn't the book but your description reminded me of The Painted Veil"

Ditto here ...

message 5: by Laina (last edited Sep 21, 2012 09:20PM) (new)

Laina (lshockley) | 188 comments Hi everybody! Thank you for your suggestions!

Unfortunately, I have already read both Painted Veil, and all of James Clavell's Asian Saga. The writing is more textural/psychological than James Clavell.

Painted Veil is in the right style, but, it's just not the book. If books had parents, Painted Veil and Heart of Darkness would be the parents. Any other ideas? :)

Themis-Athena (Lioness at Large) (themis-athena) | 71 comments Not for the present (will keep thinking -- and following this thread; this is the kind of book I'd be interested in as well) ... but I just LOVE "if books had parents"! :)

message 7: by Laina (new)

Laina (lshockley) | 188 comments Hi Themis-Athena! Yes, after I posted, I was thinking "Name My Parents" would be a fun book game! Thanks, and I'll let you know if I ever figure out which book this was. :)

message 8: by Gini (new)

Gini (camp80) | 59 comments This isn't your book but I have a hunch that you would like it. Two Under the Indian Sun and Night in Bombay. Personally I love books set in India, and I thought you might like these too. If I was wrong, my apologies.

message 9: by Laina (new)

Laina (lshockley) | 188 comments Hi Gini, Thank you so much! I am *always* on the lookout for new books to read! :)

message 10: by Lobstergirl, au gratin (new)

Lobstergirl | 38140 comments Mod
This is also not the book you're looking for, but some elements reminded me of When We Were Orphans by Kazuo Ishiguro:

"England, 1930s. Christopher Banks has become the country's most celebrated detective, his cases the talk of London society. Yet one unsolved crime always haunted him: the mysterious disappearance of his parents, in Old Shanghai, when he was a small boy. Now, as the world lurches towards total war, Banks realizes that the time has come for him to return to the city of his childhood and at last solve the mystery - that only by doing so will civilization be saved from the approaching catastrophe." "Moving between London and Shanghai of the inter-war years, When We Were Orphans is a story of memory, intrigue and the need to return: of a childhood vision of the world surviving deep into adulthood, indelibly shaping and distorting a person's life."

It is much more literary fiction than historical fiction, a deeply psychological novel.

Themis-Athena (Lioness at Large) (themis-athena) | 71 comments Well, isn't that a coincidence LG, When We Were Orphans is next on my TBR list ... :)

message 12: by Lobstergirl, au gratin (new)

Lobstergirl | 38140 comments Mod
You'll have to write a review!

message 13: by Laina (new)

Laina (lshockley) | 188 comments Thank you, Lobster Girl, I will check out your rec as well ! :)

Themis-Athena (Lioness at Large) (themis-athena) | 71 comments Lobstergirl wrote: "You'll have to write a review!"

I'll think about it ... ;) (No promises, though!)

message 15: by Laina (new)

Laina (lshockley) | 188 comments Hello!

I am still looking for this book. I remembered something else - the person who lent it to me also offered me Middlesex at the same time. It was this edition:
Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

I can't remember why, but I had the impression that they were both new books at the time, so there's a good chance my missing book was published contemporaneously to this edition of Middlesex in 2003.

Thank you!

message 16: by Lobstergirl, au gratin (new)

Lobstergirl | 38140 comments Mod
Might be worth it to page through this list.

message 17: by Lobstergirl, au gratin (new)

Lobstergirl | 38140 comments Mod
Is it something by Amitav Ghosh? Do you remember if the author had an Ango or non-Anglo name?

message 18: by CLM (new)

CLM | 302 comments Possibly by Elizabeth Darrell or her alter ego Emma Drummond?

message 19: by Laina (new)

Laina (lshockley) | 188 comments Hi everybody!

Thank you, Lobster Girl for the book list link! I did look through the NY Times notable books for 2002, 2003 and 2004, but this list looks more thorough. I will review and report back.

And, it definitely isn't Amitov Ghosh. I keep bumping up against his books when I google my book's keywords, but, I've read some excerpts and it's definitely not it. I feel like it was an anglo name and a male author, but, I might be wrong.

And, thank you for your suggestions, CLM, I looked at her bibliographies, but, no dice.

Please keep you leads coming, I will follow them all, and I appreciate your help! :)

message 20: by Kim BookGirl (new)

Kim BookGirl Lobstergirl wrote: "This is also not the book you're looking for, but some elements reminded me of When We Were Orphans by Kazuo Ishiguro:

"England, 1930s. Christopher Banks has become the country's most celebrated d..."

Fabulous book!

message 21: by Laina (new)

Laina (lshockley) | 188 comments Hello All !

I am still looking for this book, and sadly, did not find it on the wiki list Lobstergirl posted. I'm starting to think I must be off on the publication date. However, I am totally positive that I read it sometime between 2000 and 2004, as it was my boss who loaned me the book, and I left that position in early 2005.

Any ideas are welcome!

message 22: by Laina (new)

Laina (lshockley) | 188 comments Hello All !

I am still searching. Your help is appreciated!

After some more thought, I may be wrong about the epidemic. Perhaps it was a natural disaster of some sort? Probably a river flood, but maybe something else.

Also, I have updated the original post to include all information about this query. Thank you!

message 23: by ``Laurie (new)

``Laurie (laurielynette) | 1039 comments I don't remember the book you are describing but a similar one you might enjoy is "Flowers In The Blood" by Gay Courter. It was set in India about a rich family active in the opium trade and the trials and tribulations of the main character who was very relatable and easy to get attached to. Her travails finding true love and happiness will keep you turning the pages.

message 24: by Laina (new)

Laina (lshockley) | 188 comments Hi Laurie! Thanks so much for the rec! I've added it to my reading list. :)

message 25: by Laina (new)

Laina (lshockley) | 188 comments Bump! I've been reduced to wandering up and down the library aisles and randomly looking at book covers. Help! :)

message 26: by Lobstergirl, au gratin (new)

Lobstergirl | 38140 comments Mod
Might be worth your while to page through the "Best of" listopias for 2000-2004.


message 27: by Laina (new)

Laina (lshockley) | 188 comments Hi Lobstergirl! I have been slowly working my way through the lists - thank you so much for the link! I didn't know that best of jump page existed. I'm bookmarking it for future reference as well. I'll come back when I'm done looking and let you know if it turned up. :)

message 28: by Lobstergirl, au gratin (new)

Lobstergirl | 38140 comments Mod
We may be going over old ground here, but was it more literary fiction, or historical-chick-lit type fiction?

message 29: by Laina (new)

Laina (lshockley) | 188 comments Hi Lobstergirl! It was definitely more literary than chick lit. :)

message 30: by Lobstergirl, au gratin (new)

Lobstergirl | 38140 comments Mod
FYI, for all who are interested: the "Best of" page I linked to above was created by Goodreads staff. You can see that by year, it ends at 1980. However, GR users have created lists for most other years (1979 and prior) of the 20th century so just because they're not listed on that page doesn't mean they don't exist. If you want Best of 1979 or 1934 or whatever year, just do a search in the search box and chances are good it exists.

message 31: by Lobstergirl, au gratin (new)

Lobstergirl | 38140 comments Mod
Also check out these two lists on Colonialism books.

message 32: by Lobstergirl, au gratin (last edited Aug 07, 2013 05:56PM) (new)

Lobstergirl | 38140 comments Mod
Okay this doesn't quite match (the protagonist leaves her husband to join a lover in Indochina, and they're French not British) but it seemed so close. Published in 2004.

Victorine by Catherine Texier.

I guess 1899 was also quite a bit after the Opium Wars, huh. Oh well.

message 33: by Lobstergirl, au gratin (new)

Lobstergirl | 38140 comments Mod
This is published earlier than your time frame and I can't find a detailed summary, just this:

"The author of the acclaimed Sour Sweet presents a sweeping historical novel about corruption and greed, class, race, love and treachery set in Macao and Canton before and during the Opium Wars of the 19th century. Nominated for England's prestigious Booker Prize."

Shortlisted for the Man Booker in 1986.

An Insular Possession by Timothy Mo

message 34: by Lobstergirl, au gratin (new)

Lobstergirl | 38140 comments Mod
Beneath the Sky by Paul Block?

Part of the summary:

"1837. Eighteen-year-old Queen Victoria ascends the British throne, ushering in a tumultuous age of expansion. The tiny island nation vies for supremacy of the seas, seeking new trade routes to the East and setting England against the ancient Celestial Empire of China. As the first shots of the conflict are fired, the tempestuous destinies of the two family lines are played out. Ross Ballinger, son of a prosperous tradesman, sets sail for China, where the raging Opium War plunges him into a storm tide of dangerous adventure and ill-fated love. Aristocratic Zoe Ballinger fights for prison reform, while hot-blooded Connor Maginnis vows vengeance against the all-powerful dynasty that ruined his family name."

message 35: by Laina (new)

Laina (lshockley) | 188 comments Hi Lobstergirl!

Forgive my delayed response, but I wanted to take some time to really look at your suggestions before I replied.

Unfortunately, after a careful investigation, I am sorry to say that none of your suggestions are my missing book.

However, I do appreciate you taking the time to look! -L

message 36: by Laina (new)

Laina (lshockley) | 188 comments Bump!

message 37: by Nathalia (new)

Nathalia | 64 comments Do you remember anything about the customs and traditions described, because that might help narrow it down to the country or even a region at least? Did you read it in English? How did it end?

message 38: by Laina (new)

Laina (lshockley) | 188 comments Hi Nathalia! Unfortunately, I can't really remember the ending! I did read it in English, and I don't believe it was a translation.

I don't think it was India, and I don't think it was China, but I think it was a smaller colonial outpost somewhere in between. The rivers of the region wove through thick jungle and were important for trade.

There was a formal English "colony" although it was very small - so they lived somewhat apart from the natives. But, they interacted with natives in the colony, especially for food and medicine. Unfortunately, I can't really remember any specifics!

In fact, it was a book that I enjoyed while I read it, but I didn't really think of it as read-again material. It's interesting how the fabric of some stories just sticks with you over time. Because that's really what I remember most - sort of the background texture of the setting, rather than the plot.


message 39: by Laina (new)

Laina (lshockley) | 188 comments Bump!

message 40: by Laina (new)

Laina (lshockley) | 188 comments Bump!

message 41: by Laina (new)

Laina (lshockley) | 188 comments Bump!

message 42: by Lobstergirl, au gratin (last edited Feb 17, 2014 10:11PM) (new)

Lobstergirl | 38140 comments Mod
Why is this book so hard to find? This is probably not it, but it sounds really interesting:

Rice in Silver Bowls

First published in Germany in 1954, this European best-seller offers a rich slice of European life in Thailand, circa 1949-50. Johannes Petersen of Hamburg has set up business in Bangkok, separated from his family back home because of his daughter's illness and World War II. And now, though wife Martha and their two children have arrived at last--and though they all live lavishly in Bangkok--Martha is determined to return to Hamburg: she doesn't want the children growing up among the self-indulgent, time-wasting, serene Siamese. After all, the Thai-raised family of Johannes' Uncle Wilhelm has certainly turned out badly: married to Countess Nang Siri, Wilhelm has sired an unhappy lot of half-caste children--including a dropout with beggar bowl and yellow robe. So there'll be increasing tension between chain-smoking Johannes (who wants to stay) and migraine-tormented Martha--while Johannes' jilted mistress Karin Holm first blackmails him, then plans (with nursemaid Ah Bue) to kidnap his daughter Charlotte. And though Karin herself is murdered, Ah Bue goes ahead with the scheme--which leads Charlotte, Johannes, and others into the Thai underworld of opium and child-buying. Still, despite kidnaps, murders, and suicides, this is more sociological travelogue than melodrama--with greater appeal in the abundant Asian-milieu detail than in the somewhat overwrought storytelling.

message 43: by Lobstergirl, au gratin (new)

Lobstergirl | 38140 comments Mod
Maybe check out Margaret Gaan's "Opium Wars Trilogy." Titles are Red Barbarian, White Poppy, and Blue Mountain...though it sounds like the protagonists are more men than women.

message 44: by Lobstergirl, au gratin (last edited Feb 17, 2014 10:38PM) (new)

Lobstergirl | 38140 comments Mod
Another longshot, Flowers in the Blood - Victorian era, Jewish family in Calcutta, opium trade.

The opium trade makes Dinah Sassoon's family wealthy, but no one can protect her from the scandal of her mother's murder in 19th-century Calcutta.

Oh nevermind, I see someone already mentioned this.

message 45: by Lobstergirl, au gratin (last edited Feb 17, 2014 10:24PM) (new)

Lobstergirl | 38140 comments Mod

Turn-of-the-century Shanghai is colorfully depicted in this large-scale saga of fictional British customs agent John Denton's evolving influence in the opium trade. The novel spans 45 years, beginning in 1903 with Denton's arrival in the thriving international port city of Shanghai and concluding with his return there at the end of World War II. All the intervening action occurs in Shanghai itself, where we watch as Denton becomes accustomed to his new home, marries an American he grows to detest, and finally seems to find contentment with his second wife, Su-mei, a former prostitute, only to have all manner of trouble descend on him: his son is kidnapped; Su-mei, an opium addict, is forced back into prostitution; and Denton's trading business is threatened by some of China's deadliest gangsters. It's an atmospheric concoction in which the adventure, romance, and golden brilliance of this legendary city are contrasted with its dark underbelly of poverty, oppression, barbarism, and fateful shift to Communism.

message 46: by Lobstergirl, au gratin (new)

message 47: by Lobstergirl, au gratin (new)

Lobstergirl | 38140 comments Mod
The Pearl Pagoda?

Fluttery, windy, mid-19th-century romance, much of it set in a China that's as flabbily unconvincing as the muchee thickee dialect and the backdrop-flat natives. Orphan Megan Jones from Wales, affianced to Methodist missionary Arthur, travels alone to Macao aboard the Lotus Wind--which is captained by Robert Hawke, a monolith of muscle, deep-set of eye and rude of manner. Megan and Robert will walk cupid's gangplank, of course, but first Megan lands in Macao and learns of Arthur's death--of opium! Then, on a holiday trip (on the Lotus Wind again) with the kind people at the Mission where Megan has decided to work, the Wind is becalmed by pirates. A battle ensues, the Mission people escape, but Megan, who now knows where her heart lies, refuses to leave badly-wounded Robert. So the two become the gently treated prisoners of mysterious Mr. Yao, on whose grounds is the lovely Pearl Pagoda, where Robert and Megan will spend some many-splendoted moments (one of which will result in Megan's pregnancy).

message 48: by Lobstergirl, au gratin (new)

Lobstergirl | 38140 comments Mod
One Last Look?

Arriving at the English settlement in Calcutta in 1836, Lady Eleanor, sister to the colony's Governor-general, and her sister, Harriet, anticipate an unpleasant experience but instead find the region an area of seductive and exotic culture.

message 49: by Lobstergirl, au gratin (last edited Feb 17, 2014 10:35PM) (new)

Lobstergirl | 38140 comments Mod
This sounds like the closest stab so far:


Brilliantly colored but baggy debut about a 19th-century British adventurer, the eccentric figure who inspired Conrad's Lord Jim, and his kingdom on the north coast of Borneo. The strange tale of Rajah Gideon Bart starts with his mother, who left him in England to be raised by relatives while she went to the Far East, only to die without ever seeing him again. First apprenticing himself there with the East India Company, Barr returned to the region with his own ship, eager to carve out a niche but vague as to how to do it. Sent by the British on a suicide mission into pirate-ruled waters off Borneo, he confounded everyone and established a beachhead after putting down a local insurrection. A mix of shrewd dealing and brute force enabled him to expand his territory rapidly, aided by visits from his friend, the Admiral of the British fleet in the area, and by the permanent presence in inland forts of a motley collection of loners, fellow adventurers each with his own reason for serving in obscure regions. So the Raj was born, and as it matured, the trappings of civilization arrived: gardens, churches, and wives. Rajah Barr took an English gift, a cousin, to wife, even though he had already taken up with the bewitching former spouse of a slain Borneo prince; in spite of the coolness in the marriage, Barr's bride cast her own spell on the natives. Meanwhile, despite outbreaks of cholera and losses to the nearby headhunters not yet "pacified" by Barr's ragtag troops, his unlikely kingdom persisted--until the long-suffering Chinese, taxed to the limit for the opium trade, lashed out.

message 50: by Laina (new)

Laina (lshockley) | 188 comments Hi Lobstergirl! Thank you so much for all your suggestions!

I looked at what I could find on each of them and I don't think any of them are my book.

Kalimantaan does seem like the closest one we've found so far, but, it seems to be written from the POV of the husband. This is definitely written POV as wife. However, it looks like a good read, and I'm going to read it anyway!

I must have something wrong about the book - and in all honesty, the more time goes by, the less I can remember. So I do appreciate your longshot suggestions too! :)

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