Our Hart's Reviews
Lloyd Lofthouse prefaces Our Hart, the sequel to his novel My Splendid Concubine, with a transcription of the plaque inscribed to Sir Robert Hart in Shanghai, which informs us that he was, among other things, "Inspector General of the Chinese Customs, Founder of the Chinese Lighthouse Service, Organizer and Administrator of the National Post Office, Trusted Counselor of the Chinese Government."
Readers who missed My Splendid Concubine will be grateful for the information, since Our Hart hits the ground running and only reprises that earlier novel in quick asides.
Queen Victoria’s Foreign Office attached his services in China as a young man, and he spent the latter half of the 19th century there, culminating in a long stretch as Inspector-General of Foreign Customs. But Our Hart is a far cry from an official biography: this is a novel of love—not only the love of a woman (which Hart finds in China in the person of Ayaou, the concubine of the first book’s title), but the love of a country. From the beginning, Hart feels this love for China, though he initially has a hard time convincing the Chinese.
To put it mildly, he goes on to prove this. He sees his administration through upheavals, social turmoil, the Boxer Rebellion, and all the other spasms by which China stumbled into the 20th century, and by the climax of one such scene late in the book, Hart travels with an extensive bodyguard and must admonish Chinese soldiers not to kneel to him. By the time he meets the wizened old empress Tzu Hsi at the book’s conclusion, readers are very much supposed to feel she’s the one being honored.
This kind of cultural condescension comes about in the most benign way, but it can get a little wearying. It’s the only drawback of this otherwise fine and tightly controlled novel. -- Reviewed by Steve Donoghu
"There are fathers of modernization for every country, and China's may well be an Irishman. Our Hart is a follow up to Lloyd Lofthouse's previous novel, My Splendid Concubine. Historical fiction, Lofthouse tells the story of Robert Hart, the man responsible for China reinventing itself in the nineteenth century and how modern China purged him from the history books when the Communists took over. Our Hart is a unique and entertaining read, recommended."
"Historical Fiction is a tough nut to crack. It is so easy to fall into the trap of modifying the facts to meet the fiction.… As Historical Fiction books go, this is without doubt one of the best I have read in 2009, and my guess is that it is going to surpass the success that the author had with My Splendid Concubine." Simon Barrett, Blogger News Network
"Our Hart is … a historical novel in the finest tradition, where one cannot be sure what is real and what is fiction. … the characters are interesting, and many are ‘fleshed out’ so as to gain truly lifelike proportions. And underlying all, is a most unconventional, and poignant, love story. Our Hart is a book that readers will find so intriguing as to be hard to put down." by John H. Manhold from FascinatingAuthors.com
Though "Our Hart could be read as a stand alone book, I highly recommend that you read 'My Splendid Concubine' first, as it gives you quite a bit of background that makes 'Our Hart' a richer read. I highly recommend both of these books to historical fiction lovers who are interested in Chinese culture."
"I enjoyed this look at a time and place that was fraught with uncertainty and was pleased to get to know the force of nature that was Robert Hart. I think that those readers with a discerning eye for Chinese history would be greatly impacted by this book and learn a lot about not only the area, but the politics of the time period. Don't let the simple style fool you, this is a story full of bravery, honor and sacrifice. A very compelling read."
LINKS TO MORE REVIEWS
Pudgy Penguin Perusals (1/28/10)
Sir Robert Hart, as reimagined by author Lloyd Lofthouse, was never meant to be a hero. He is an admittedly flawed man with vices and sins: he likes his women, and he even steals concubines from his friends.
But Hart's coming-of-age during his prurient first years in China, as described in My Splendid Concubine has matured him. In Our Hart, Elegy for a Concubine, passion has been replaced by piety while the lust of the first novel has been lost to love.
Just as our protagonist has matured, Our Hart, the novel is also a more mature read than its predecessor My Splendid Concubine. From bedroom complexities to political complexities; from the weight of a young concubine in Robert Hart's arms to the weight of an ancient empire on his shoulders, Our Hart is divided by romantic drama and political intrigue.
Lofthouse writes: "The world turned black and white with occasional violent flashes...there was no color in his life." Indeed, Our Hart is a dark novel intent on capturing the despondent spirit of an outsider immersed in a brutal period of Chinese history.
Historical fiction potboiler, yes. But where the `Concubine' saga truly shines is its thought-provoking passages on relationships, attitudes and cultural differences.
The heated dialogue between Hart and Ayaou brilliantly described in Chapter 13 of Our Hart will especially touch a nerve for any westerner who has ever lived and loved in China: "Understanding her behavior didn't stop him from resenting it." Tom Carter's Amazon Review
Three Clover Press
background images from paintings by Xu Xiao-dong, Zhouzhuang, China