Samuel Pickens, a blue blood from Connecticut's Gold Coast, narrates this tale of obsession, lust, and lost love from his home within the walls of the Forbidden City. In his youth, Pickens had fallen passionately in love with his headmaster's daughter, Annabelle. She had been raised in China and was worldly beyond her years. Though they were just teenagers, their romance quickly blossomed until tragically, only one month after meeting, Annabelle was dead. Initially, Pickens is devastated by the loss, but within days, he believes that Annabelle's ghost is visiting him, and she will not rest until she is returned to China.Pickens becomes the benefactor of a number of lucky coincidences-unless, of course, it is Annabelle who is pulling the strings-that allow him to travel to the Orient. There, he works for the effete and powerless emperor, who keeps a concubine, Qiu Rong, who looks shockingly like dear Annabelle. Pickens cannot hide his desire, and it is requited, but the palace is filled with gossips and thieves at every turn.
Chen's (Brothers) 19th-century tale of obsession explores the line between love and madness. After Samuel Pickens's first love, Annabelle, perishes in a fire a month into their adolescent romance, her spirit stays with him through Yale and beyond, an invisible partner who reigns over him. Later, an adult Pickens acquires a position as tutor to the teenage emperor of China's Qing Dynasty and travels to the country where his beloved spent her childhood. There, he finds a royal palace overrun with corrupt eunuchs and led by a callow and unprepared emperor. Pickens is soon befriended by his effeminate pupil, but the tutor becomes enamored with 13-year-old Empress Qiu Rong, fourth wife of the emperor and Annabelle's doppelganger. Their ensuing perverse love affair is complicated by the schemes of various parties, but together they navigate the traps set for them, seeking assistance from a local warlord and other shady individuals. Steeped in the language and colors of an Asia long gone, this florid, Lolita-esque tale focuses too narrowly on the narrator's lost love and misses its potential to be a sweeping historical epic. Agent: Alex Glass, Trident Media Group. (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
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October 02, 2012
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