” It was a sick joke that she had escaped occupation and certain imprisonment, only to be trapped into making deals with the devil. There were all kinds of war. ” (Ch.9, p.105)
Leah Kolbe owns an antiques shop on Hollywood Road in Hong Kong. Her left left the business to her when he died four years ago. The year is 1937, Leah finally agrees to marry her lover, Jonathan Hawatyne, and English expatriate who works as a solicitor in the British colony. A young girl who prizes her independence and resolves to stay in Hong Kong, which she calls home, despite the imminent Japanese invasion, she refuses to evacuate to Australia. On Christmas Day 1941, the Hong Kong government surrenders to the Japanese army which will occupy the colony for three years and eight months.
Later, unbearably hot and sweaty, scrunched against Tokai on the narrow bed listening to him breathe, she was swept by remorse. How could he stir up such feelings of lust and desire? How could she be in love with one man and spend hours making love to another? (Ch.12, p.148)
Leah and Jonathan are inevitably separated. She flees to Macau while Jonathan joins the Volunteer Brigade. Benamin Eldersen, an old friend and a journalist, meets Leah and persuades her to spy for the British by wheedling information out of the son of a key Japanese ammunition and steel manufacturer. Tokai Ito happens to be a prized patron of Lean’s shop who appreciates antiquities with more than a curator’s dry desire and museum goer’s idle curiosity. But she is under no illusions about what it means to be a spy—until it dawns on her that she is more than trading secrets: Eldersen wants her to become Ito’s mistress.
The question tortured her. She stared at the silent, elegant women on the inlaid screen, trying to reconcile duplicity with love and Jonathan. Sometime around two in the morning, she gave up. It was war. There weren’t any rules. (Ch.8, p.89)
She has no choice but to comply, consoling herself with the thought that it’s for a good cause, as a successful snatch could disrupt the Japanese war plans. What she never expects is her becoming ensnared in grubby disgusting schemes on the part of other groups. The Allied, the Brits, the factions of China all have ulterior motives and interests. In Macau she finds a job at the British Consulate, where the consul treats her with more than avuncular affection. Much of the actions take place in the Portugese colony, which maintain a tense peace with Japan because of a sizable Japanese community in Brazil. Petty crimes and violence are rife in Macau despite its being a neutral ground. Apart from the sexual exploits of Leah, one never loses the sense of war, urgency, and danger around her. She is characterized by the ever changing circumstances, by the constant threat of the Japanese, by the distress of not knowing the fate of friends and loved ones in occupied Hong Kong. This novel has totally escaped my attention and deserves to be read more widely. Petit captures the colonies and their inhabitants in constant peril with skills.
288 pp. Soho Press. Paper. [Read/
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