Thursday, January 11, 2018

Han Suyin - The Enchantress

Publisher: Bantam Books
Author: Han Suyin
Title: The Enchantress

Han Suyin is now out of fashion, her books are forgotten and out of stock. I read her in the 70s as some books of hers were scattered around our house.  My mother was a fan of hers, soon I was too.  I have never passed up a chance to pick up her books and have been greatly enriched by them.

The story begins in 1752 near the city of Lausanne where Colin Duriez lives with his twin sister Bea, his older half-brother Valentin and his mother and father. His father is a former pastor who gave up his calling to marry his mother.  The love between them is great. His father makes automata, little machines that are able to walk and do things.  His mother makes linen and lace and also ministers to woman with troubles who come to her for healing.

His mother also speaks to the elements and goes out at night to gather souls at times.  His sister Bea also has the gift. Colin and Valentin do not. This gift soon turns fatal and the children lose their parents.  Their cousin, Isabelle takes them in. Colin's father was the heir of the Baron of Neuchatel, which he gave up to marry their mother.  Their uncle was the current Baron but childless, Colin was now the heir. Bea and Colin find their new environment stifling and run away with the help of Valentin.

Fear of the long arms of baron of Neuchatel makes them embark on a long voyage with Abdul Reza. They travel by ship and reach Malabar. Colin's senses are enchanted by the beauty and color of the region.  Their destination is China, as it is there that Colin wants to make automata like his father. There are people there who await him. Colin and Bea land up in Yangchou where they are dazzled by China.  Colin and Bea work on the automata and meet many learned people.  They are forced to run from China when their sponsor is accused of treason.

They reach Ayuthia and are enchanted. Their life is blessed and they soon find love. Alas, Ayuthia is ruled by a crazed king who will do nothing to halt the Burmese invasion.  They are witness to the terrible sack of the beautiful city. In these troubled times the Siamese find their deliverance in a half Chinese, half Thai general, Taksin.

I have given almost the whole plot, you may feel. The beauty of the book is in the vivid descriptions of lives in Lausanne, Geneva, Malabar, Yangchou and Ayuthia in the second half of the eighteenth century.  It was a colourful time when the world was on the cusp of the age of science.

Han Suyin's beautiful language brings to life those times.  We cross the seas with Colin, feel the journey arduous with him, are captivated by the sheer color and magnificence of Asia along with him. It is not so much a story as an experience.  I was led to believe that The Enchantress of the title is Bea Duriez. It was actually the City of Authiya that was the true enchantress

It was an advantage as I have been to Ayutthya just a couple of months ago in November 2017, and took pictures of the Chedis burned down by the Burmese. Many golden Buddhas were hidden downstream by the Buddhist priests, these floated down and were rescued by the people and installed in various new chedis. The magnificent gold statue in the Emerald  Palace in Bangkok was also rescued in the same fashion.  The Kings Palace was razed to the ground and Ayutthya is dotted with such ruins.  I saw the beautiful canals, the lush greenery of the place, and could imagine just how enchanting the place must have been in its full glory.

The seductive and vibrant Far East comes alive in this book.  We learn of the brave, heroic and prescient Taksin who is able to halt the Burmese, wrest the land back from them and lay the foundation of the modern day Thailand.

The story of The Enchantress just not end with sack and recovery of Ayuthia, it continues in Lausanne in a most unexpected fashion. I was blown away by the last part of the book.

The book is so rich in detail, so evocative that it is perfect for a movie version or even a TV series. How I wish someone would bring it life on screen.


Angela said...

I love discovering older books that people aren't as familiar with anymore. Thanks for sharing!

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