At the age of seventeen, one year before I came to England, I spent a delightful few months with my paternal grandmother and her unmarried sister in their humble abode in the biblical town of Nazareth.
Those months, which shaped my entire life, were nurtured in an environment Spartan in every sense of the word. Yet it brought me close to nature and somehow instilled in me an addiction to reading any book I could lay my hands on. It was a period of enlightenment and education that ultimately replaced my inability to go to university and enjoy the cultural ambience of being in learned and august surroundings.
One of the many authors I read avidly was Pearl S. Buck, an American writer who spent most of her time in China until 1934. Her book, The Good Earth, was a worldwide bestseller for which she won the Pulitzer Prize in 1932. In 1938 she was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. I read most of her books, and developed an intriguing love of China and its people.
Later in life when I became the group chief executive of Asprey I visited China on numerous occasions, and somehow that latent interest in the country remained as strong and powerful as ever.
As a publisher I therefore welcomed a manuscript that accidentally came my way, written by Chung Yee Chong and published recently under the title The Bitter Sea. The synopsis below will tell you what to expect. It is a compelling read and I recommend it fully.
China. 1948. The Communist Party under Mao Tse Tung is amassing forces in the north, while the Kuomintang under Chiang Kai Shek ineffectually clings on to power with a depleted army in the south. As the Fu family gather to celebrate the birthday of the Dowager, an unwelcome appearance by a stranger interrupts the proceedings and ushers in a series of events with tragic implications for the entire family.
Set in the turbulent and unsettling period of the civil war in China, The Bitter Sea charts the disintegration of a prominent and influential family in Canton. Unlikely and fateful alliances are formed, familial affinities compromised, personal ambitions thwarted and efforts to broker peace end in disenchantment, as members of the Fu family attempt to come to terms with crumbling social and political conditions.
By drawing close parallels between the fate of a single family and that of the nation at large, the novel seeks to examine the divisive nature of politics and the devastating consequences of war. As much an indictment on war as a comment on the human condition, this extraordinary novel shows the extent to which we are all victims of political vicissitudes, the ravages of war and the brutal upheavals a change in regime must always necessitate.