An evocative, multi-generational tale of a family haunted by the death of a young concubine in 1930s Malaysia.
In 1930s Malaya, sixteen-year-old Yu Lan is in love with her best friend, Ming, whose father owns one of the busiest kopi shops in Petaling Street. But Ming’s family don’t see the apothecary’s daughter as a suitable wife — for Yu Lan’s father, Lim, spends more time playing mahjong than selling herbal remedies. It’s not long before Lim makes a terrible decision that will change Yu Lan’s life forever, selling her as a concubine to the wealthy, ageing Towkay Chan who is desperate for a male heir.
The consequences of Lim’s betrayal resonate through four generations and into the present day, where Yu Lan’s great-grandson, Nick, is searching for his lost family history. His wife, Sarah, begins to be very afraid of what he will find as past and present meld into one.
The inspiration for this novel has crept up on me over the last twenty-five years of annual visits to Malaysia to stay with my husband’s family. Abandoned ghost houses, inquisitive monkeys, smoky temples, thick jungle, Chinese funerals and a panoply of gods and demons have all played their part.
Concubines and polygamy were once a way of life (and still are) for many families of various faiths in Malaysia. I wondered what it would be like for a young woman forced into one of these arrangements and whether the first wife would resent her. It struck me that there was bound to be a power play that might sometimes end in tragedy, and so the idea for The Concubine’s Child was born.