This is an archived issue of Belletrista. If you are looking for the current issue, you can find it here
Belletrista - A site promoting translated women authored literature from around the world


by Linda Jaivin
Reviewed by Amanda Meale

It is 1904. The Russians and the Japanese are fighting for territory in the region of Manchuria in northeastern China. George "Chinese" Morrison, an eminent Australian journalist and The Times correspondent for Peking, is having difficulty concentrating on his work, having just met the luscious Mae Ruth Perkins, an American heiress and the eponymous immoral woman of this novel. Enamoured of Mae, Morrison finds himself constantly distracted. Shortly after their first intimate encounter, he begins to hear rumours that she is rather generous with her favours. Thereafter, he desperately attempts to sort truth from fiction, and lust from love.

At the same time, Morrison's colleague Lionel James is attempting to be the first journalist to send wires directly from a war zone. Morrison moves constantly among the roles of serious correspondent, James's advisor, and Mae's lover. These juxtapositions prove to be more than merely a plot device. On the one hand is Mae, who is certainly immoral as defined by her culture. On the other hand is the journalists' obsession with war and its inherent immorality. As Mae herself points out: "[Tolstoy] has written a most moving pamphlet arguing the case against war in general and this one in particular, calling it contrary to the teaching of both Jesus Christ and Lord Buddha. He says war brings needless suffering and stupefies and brutalizes men."

Based on a true story, Jaivin's novel is thoroughly researched and adeptly recreates time and place. While essentially writing a story of Westerners living abroad, the author displays an ability to understand and depict aspects of Chinese and Japanese culture in 1904. She writes: "Past the ornate shopfronts lay treasure troves of rare books, fine calligraphy, old paintings and stone rubbings, as well as bibelots such as jade archery rings, snuff bottles and belt ornaments. The clicking of abacuses, the chink of lidded teacups on saucers and the rolling hum of negotiations were sounds that gladdened Morrison's heart." She shows a deft touch in portraying the relationship between Morrison and Mae in a manner that remains true to these historical figures.

Linda Jaivin has taken on quite a challenge with the writing of A Most Immoral Woman. I'm pleased to say that she is admirably up to the task. A Most Immoral Woman is interesting, colourful, and thought-provoking.