The China Memoirs of Thomas Rowley

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This latest book from the prolific Dean Barrett, “The China Memoirs of Thomas Rowley” (ISBN978-0-9788888-3-1, Village East Books, 2013) is written as “memoirs” of an American soldier Thomas Rowley during the Taiping Rebellion of 1850-1864.

In those very troubled times, soldiers of fortune or mercenaries were attracted to areas in the world where conflicts abounded, and their talents as warriors earned them wealth or death.  The better ones survived.

“China Memoirs” calls upon author Dean Barrett’s extensive knowledge of China, coming from his time as a Chinese linguist during the Vietnam conflict.  He has also written eight other books with China-related material, showing that his knowledge is certainly deep.

If I were to describe the plot by which this book is held together, it would be an example of the Stockholm syndrome, such as demonstrated by Patty Hearst and her kidnap by the Symbionese Liberation Army, where she eventually “changed sides” and was arrested for bank robbery on behalf of her captors.

Stockholm syndrome, or capture-bonding, is a psychological phenomenon in which hostages express empathy and sympathy and have positive feelings toward their captors, sometimes to the point of defending them.  These feelings are generally considered irrational in light of the danger or risk endured by the victims, who essentially mistake a lack of abuse from their captors for an act of kindness.

In the book, Thomas Rowley has his spirit broken and he mistakes lack of abuse for an act of love.  When the life of the leader of the Chinese women was threatened, he gives a warning to them, putting himself in danger “but of far more importance to me by then was wanting nothing to harm Golden Lilly or any of the women.”  Also while waiting for punishment, “I no longer cared about myself; only sweet Little Sister.  She was all that mattered to me.”

On his return to America, Rowley lapses into clinical depression which becomes a permanent part of his life.  Today, he would be treated, but in 1922 when he died, there was no treatment.

In my review of Skytrain to Murder I stated that “Dean Barrett manages to maintain the pace and the environment all the way through the book … This ability to present real characters in real surroundings gives this book an immediacy and credibility that exhorts you to keep on reading.”  He has done the same with this book set in China in 1862.  His knowledge of Chinese history, including small details, makes for fascinating reading, even without the eroticism in the plot.  The details of the garments worn by western women in 1862 are given to the reader as a verbal striptease, rather than a laundry list, for example!  Other small details can be found in the inhabitants of a Chinese village of the day who were “a motley collection of barbers, blacksmith, butcher, joss-sellers, fortune-tellers, story-tellers, vagrants, thieves, pipe-sellers, beggars, arrow-makers, basket-weavers, vegetable sellers, shoe-makers, fishmongers and carpenters.”

At B. 450 through Asia Books and Bookazine, you will enjoy this erotic romp, and even learn something of China at the same time.