The Concubine’s Child

Written by Carol Jones

 

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Book Description

 

In 1930s Malaya a sixteen-year-old girl, dreaming of marriage to her sweetheart, is sold as a concubine to a rich old man desperate for an heir. Trapped, and bullied by his spiteful wife, Yu Lan plans to escape with her baby son, despite knowing that they will pursue her to the ends of the earth.
Four generations later, her great-grandson, Nick, will return to Malaysia, looking for the truth behind the facade of a house cursed by the unhappy past. Nothing can prepare him for what he will find.
This exquisitely rich novel brings to life a vanished world – a world of abandoned ghost houses, inquisitive monkeys, smoky temples and a panoply of gods and demons. A world where a poor girl can be sold to fulfil a rich man’s dream. But though he can buy her body, he can never capture her soul, nor quench her spirit.
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Book Extract

‘The house belongs to the towkayn Chan Boon Siew,’ her mother said. She looked at her mother questioningly. The towkay is a very important man, the owner of a tin mine, perhaps two tin mines,’ her mother continued, handing her a second photograph, with the image facing down, as if to give her daughter a brief respite. A moment in time to remain herself: Lim Yu Lan, a tall girl of sixteen years, eldest child of Apothecary Lim, elder sister to Lim Wang Yu and Lim Wang Seng, precious daughter to her mother Tan Hoi Wah, know-nothing student of Ng Lou-si, promised bride to Lee Ming Ho … A moment in time before her world changed for ever. ‘Your father has settled that you are to become Chan Towkay’s secondary wife.’ Her mother’s voice was devoid of expression but she couldn’t hide the sadness in her eyes. Every mother worried when her daughter left home to be married. And only a callous, unfilial daughter wouldn’t weep until her eyes grew red and swollen on her wedding day. ‘His first wife is barren and he seeks a mother for his sons.’ Sons that Chan Towkay didn’t yet have, sons that someone would have to get for him, Yu Lan thought, but she remained silent. Her voice was tangled somewhere inside, trapped by her father’s plans and Chan Towkay’s desires. No one was interested in her desires. ‘You will be a valuable member of his household.’ She noticed that her mother used the word, gwai, meaning expensive, rather than jihk, meaning of worth. Presumably her father would be well remunerated for giving away his daughter. And  once she was sold as a concubine she would no longer be part of the Lim family; she would belong to the Chan family. If she became a first wife, a chi,  she would be expected to make visits to her birth family on all the major holidays, and her children would call her parents Gung Gung and Po Po. As a first wife she would receive a handsome dowry and her parents would be clothed in respect. But as a concubine, a chieh, her husband would decide when and if she might visit her birth family. As a concubine she would receive no dowry of gold and jewellery, own no property. She wouldn’t return to her parents’ home on the third day after the wedding with gifts of roast pig and other delicacies. There would be no red posters outside the apothecar shop announcing to all that her father was receiving a gifted son-in-law into their family. There would be no street urchins singing foolish nursery rhymes outside her house and no riding in a red sedan chair to the home of her groom wearing an embroidered red jacked and pleated skirt, her arms tinkling with gold, and firecrackers announcing her departure. As chieh, Yu Lan might never see her birth family again. No wonder her mother was sad. ‘And if you bear him a son …’ She Stopped listening as her mother extolled the virtues of motherhood. Ma spoke of bearing sons as if it was a small thing. As if it wouldn’t entail the intimacy of the bedroom with a man she had never met. Yu Lan was innocent but she was far from ignorant. Growing up in a small house shared with other people, she knew that in order to get sons a man had to put his penis inside a woman, inside the soft parts she sometimes touched in secret beneath her sheet. To bear this towkay a son she would have to let him put his thing inside her. He would probably want to touch her breasts and look at her naked and other things she didn’t have a name for. And he wouldn’t be a boy named Ming. She flipped over the picture clutched in her hands. A man looked out at her, dressed in a western-style suit with his hair carefully oiled and slicked back from his face. It was a thin face with high cheekbones and might have been handsome once. But now it was old, with lines dragging down the mouth and a shrewd look to the eyes. ‘You will be mother to the next towkay,’ But this man with the shrewd eyes would want to put his penis inside her private parts, whenever he grew hard with his needs, whenever the whim took him. Her body was the only thing that was hers and her father would sell it to a stranger. ‘He already has a wife. I will be his concubine,’ she whispered, finally finding a few worthless words. She spoke in a flat voice. She didn’t speak out in anger, for what would be the point? Her father had spoken. Chan Towkay had spoken. ‘Better to be a rich man’s concubine than a poor man’s wife.’

 

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Author Bio
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Born in Brisbane, Australia, Carol Jones taught English and Drama at secondary schools before working as an editor of children’s magazines. She is the author of several young adult novels as well as children’s non-fiction.
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