The U.S. first entered French Indochina, now known as Vietnam, in the mid-1950s, This book has opened my eyes on the years leading up to that time as no history book, fiction or non-fiction, ever has. I read the ARC of A Hundred Suns, by Karin Tanabe, courtesy of St. Martin’s Press and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. The story is hauntingly beautiful, and evokes many emotions. It deals with French colonialism and industrial expansion in the area, specifically the Michelin family; and is full of passion, intrigue, deception, love and romance, fear, and political corruption.
The fictional couple, American Jessie Lesage and her husband, Victor, one of several heirs to the Michelin empire, arrive in Hanoi to manage the three Michelin rubber plantations. Enamored with the city, it’s botanical and architectural beauty, Jessie quickly settles into the glamorous 1930s world of the wealthy and morally bankrupt French society. Quickly befriended by the captivating Marcelle de Fabry.
Jessie and Marcelle both have their secrets; and they are often working at odds with each other, as Jessie begins to suspect Marcelle has ulterior motives for befriending her. Both are motivated by self-preservation and ambition. Against the background of workers’ rights uprisings on the plantations over the French exploitation of both workers and natural resources, encouraged by communist agitators, Jessie soon learns Marcelle is no friend.
One thing I expect in a novel is good research. In A Hundred Suns, Arnaud de Fabry implies the Michelins invented the pneumatic tire. Actually it was invented by Scottish veterinarian and inventor, John Boyd Dunlop. Nevertheless, I loved the story, and found it difficult to put it down. For a compelling story set against the backdrop of 1930s history, you can’t go wrong.
What made The Grumpy Book Reviewer grumpy?
Can a story be beautifully told, yet not beautifully written? For me, that seems to be the case because of these things:
- Implying the wrong inventor of the pneumatic tire;
- Excessive use of the word “that”;
- Incorrect verb usage: was vs. were, bring vs. take;
- Referring to people as “that” rather than “who”;
- Using “further” in place of “farther”;
- Numerous split infinitives;
- Consistently misplacing the word “only” within sentences. Most of us do this when speaking, but we can get away with much more in spoken English than we can in written English.