The Porcelain Moon splits its focus between two different Chinese women living in France at the end of World War I. They are related and harboring secrets from each other which are threatening to slip out. Easy to read and beautifully sculpted, the book provides an experience that moves with grace from chapter to chapter.
Pauline Deng is at the mercy of her First Wife, the wife of her uncle, who will select her husband in an arranged marriage that will force her to move back to Shanghai. The woman does not like Pauline, who knows whichever match the woman picks for her will be a bad one. Pauline refuses to relive the mistakes of previous generations and runs away, finding shelter in Noyelles-sur-Mer with Camille Roussel, who is seeking to escape her abusive husband, Jean-Paul. Pauline and Camile soon become fast friends as Pauline and her cousin Theo work to find a way out of their respective arranged marriages. Theo works for the Chinese Labour Corps while trying to help puzzle this out, and Pauline believes that Camile and he are just friends.
But soon Pauline learns Camile’s secret. As Pauline embarks upon a relationship with her journalist friend Henri Liu, she soon finds herself assisting Camile. But can their love affairs survive when so much has been concealed?
Those who don’t like infidelity in stories may not enjoy the Porcelain Moon. The rest of us are in for a huge treat, as the book gives us a glimpse at a part of Paris we rarely get to see, and we are given the opportunity to learn how the Chinese community that settled in Paris during the Great War formed and thrived.
The book itself is handsome and involving, and honest in its depiction of spousal abuse, postwar depravation, interracial marriage, forbidden love and balancing the traditional with the new. It’s not soapy but very trenchant and easy to fall into for an afternoon.
The two leads here are easy to like, Jean-Paul is properly loathsome, and Henri and Theo are admirable. There are wonderful peeks at the era and into facets of what it was like to be Chinese living in France, a not-always welcoming culture. There are mysterious friends and foes for both girls to discover, and a secret pact forever formed which will keep them afloat for life.
It’s a pretty good ride. The Porcelain Moon is beautiful in its spare intensity, and its romances are easy to believe in.
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