Tag-Archive for ◊ The Enchantress ◊

• Friday, November 25th, 2022

Han Suyin is the pen name of Rosalie Matilda Kuang-Hou Chou. She was born in 1917 in Xinyang, China, Henan province, to a Chinese father from a landowning family in Sichuan province and a Belgian mother of aristocratic descent.

Han Suyin graduated from Yenching University in Peking, obtained a bachelor of science degree from the University of Brussels and a Bachelor of Medicine and Surgery in 1948 from London University. In 1949 she worked as a physician at a hospital in Hong Kong, working during the day and writing at night.

Her first semi-autobiographical novel, A Many Splendoured Thing, published in 1952, was a big success creating the author’s international literary reputation. In 1960 Han Suyin dropped her medical practice and dedicated herself full-time to lecturing and writing.

Han Suyin wrote several novels, mainly in English and French, set in East and Southeast Asia, autobiographical memoirs on modern China, multiple volumes of memoirs and complimentary biographies of Mao Zedong and Premier Zhou Enlai, as well as two essays. She died in Lausanne, Switzerland, in 2012.

In 2008 the Swiss canton of Valais and the non-governmental foundation, “Espace-Enfants”, erected a sculpture in her honour in Saint-Pierre de Clages “to express their appreciation for Han Suyin to have chosen the French-speaking part of Switzerland to live.” Saint-Pierre de Clages is a small village in the municipality of Chamoson known as the Swiss “book town” with an annual book festival.

The Enchantress, published in 1985, is a historical fiction story that follows the twin sister and brother Duriez from 1752 to 1785. The story starts in Vidy, a hamlet near Lausanne in the French- speaking part of Switzerland where the Duriez family lives.

The father, an heir to a barony, but he never mentions it, is a skilful clockwork robot maker (automata). The mother, a Celtic priestess, is a talented linen and lace embroiderer as well as a gifted healer. And then there are their children; the twins Bea and Colin and the adopted son Valentin.

Colin inherited his father’s talents for building and activating robotics and Bea took after her mother by using supernatural powers. Bea and Colin share an interdependent relationship, being able to speak to each other through their mind, even over far distances.

After their parents’ tragic burning as witches by the local people, the three children undertake a long voyage. It starts in southern India, followed by east China settling in the opulent, paradisical capital of the Thai kingdom island of Golden Ayuthia – the enchantress – run by king Ekatat. The twins hope to succeed in selling their automata there which are very popular among the rich and the royals.

Ayuthia is a Thai kingdom island that only existed from 1350 to 1767. During its short existence, before its destruction by the Burmese king Mangra, Ayuthia was one of the world’s most important places for trading and diplomacy. The Burmese destroyed it because the Thai king Ekatat refused to release weapons for his army to fight back, fearing these arms might be used against him. In 1991, a section of Ayuthia’s historical park was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The Enchantress is a complex, ambitious, romantic, historical story intertwined with a fairy tale reminiscent of the middle eastern folk tale One Thousand And One Nights. The characters in the novel are well depicted and described with compassion by the author.

The story covers several topics of interest; people’s appeal for the automata at the time of the eighteen century, the influence of the Jesuit missionaries upon the natives, the strong anti-Semitism in Europe, how trade was run between east and west and the lifestyle of Palaces and the wealthy nobility.

It is a charming tale full of characters and well-researched events. The details are colourful and evocative, complementing the author’s powerful, elegant writing style. It is altogether an enjoyable read that transports the reader to a fascinating world of wonders with beautiful nature, palaces and wealth, as well as cruel torturing and killing.

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