Sunday, January 3, 2010

The Girl From Junchow

by Kate Furnivall

This is the sequel to The Russian Concubine, one of my favorite books of 2009. I bought this the day it was released in July, but put off reading it because I was afraid it would not hold up to my expectations. However, I promised it to a student after Christmas Break, so I started it right after Christmas.

The Russian Concubine ends with Lydia heading into Soviet Russia to find her father. Her companions are an unlikely group, a brother she just found out existed and a huge, uncouth Cossack who has remained loyal to her father all these years. This is where The Girl from Junchow begins. Lydia's story is full of twists and turns and of course hardships. Her brother suddenly disappears, she is penniless and has to find a way from Siberia to Moscow, and Popkov, the Cossack picks up an unlikely Soviet woman. Somehow Lydia's Communist Chinese lover, Chang An Lo appears in Moscow, the Soviet mafia makes an appearance and Lydia's father just might not be what she expected.

Furnivall does a beautiful job of depicting the grey, depressed, desolate landscape that was Soviet Russia. Set in 1929, the Communists under Joseph Stalin are still trying to figure out how to make communism work. The society that is supposed to make everyone equal is only succeeding in making everything less so. Factories spring up overnight and draw farmers from the countryside, leaving no one to grow food for the huge, growing population . People are rounded up and disapppear for reading books, speaking out or just looking at the wrong person. Work camps and prisons are filled with political prisoners. Churches are blown up on a daily basis. The fear that surrounded this time in Russian history is palpable throughout the book.

The story itself is really good. The plotlines are woven together with the history very well. I truly enjoyed Lydia's journey through Russia and her quest not only for her father, but to find herself as well. My one criticism with the book is how neatly and quickly the loose ends were tied up at the end. For such a complex story with many plotlines, things just came together too well. The end left me unsatisfied, feeling just a little cheated after investing so much time in the characters and their stories. Furnivall did however lay the ground work for at least 2 more books involving Lydia and her family. The backstory of Lydia's mother and father will be the focus of her next book currently titled The Jewel of St. Petersburg to be released in June 2010. I also think there just might be more to Lydia and Chang An Lo's story.

Rating - A


  1. This sounds really good, even with the somewhat unsatisfying ending. Thanks for the terrific review.

  2. Hi Jenny - I wanted to answer your question about David Sedaris! I think everyone's favorite is whatever book they read first. I my case that is Whenever You Are Engulfed in Flames. And if you have the chance to listen to it on audio - it is even better - he does a great job reading his work.

    I see you read Pope Joan already in 2010 - it's in my stack and I am looking forward to it. Susan