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Review: The Lacquered Talisman

  • Thu, May 07, 2020 4:10 PM
    Message # 8954247
    Lisa Lickel (Administrator)

    The Lacquered Talisman, A novel of 14th-Century China by Laurie Dennis

    Historical fiction, 300 pp

    Published by Earnshaw Books Ltc. (Hong Kong), March 1, 2020

    Reviewed by: Bill Mathis,

    A fascinating and intriguing historical novel of tragedy and fortitude! 5 Stars!

    From the poorest of families emerges the filial son; From the worst of times emerges the hero…

    Called Fortune as a boy, later called Vessel as a teen Buddhist monk wandering the country side, Zhu Yuanzhang did not appear to be destined for greatness. At least not to my Western mindset. Yet, later he grewup to found China’s Ming Dynasty.

    The autumn dew has just turned white,

    The moon is the same one shining on my old home.

    I have brothers but they are all scattered,

    No place remains for me to ask after their fate.

    Zhu’s extended family made and sold bean curd, something he probably would have continued as an adult if his family wasn’t forced to leave the city due to drought. Moving from their tiny shop to the countryside, Zhu’s father sold a younger son to a farmer for money to purchase food. Tragedy upon tragedy occur in this well written and detailed novel. A plague kills most of the family and the orphaned Zhu is taken to a Buddhist monastery where his life is still a struggle due to the plague and political turmoil. He wears a lacquered box around his neck, a small talisman given to him by his beloved grandfather who bestowed much wisdom on the boy. The box serves as his constant remembrance of his family.

    We part on the road, mist rising in the air,

    Around the pavilion, leaves are now rare,

    I sigh – oh, how we differ from the wild geese,

    When they set off to travel, no one is left behind. (Bidding Elder Brother Goodbye)

    A coming-of-age book, we follow Zhu from childhood to young adulthood. He makes several lasting friends that will later appear when he leaves the monastery. Along the way, he learns from the monks to read and write, to study the stars and become a leader.

    Cut it doesn’t break,

    Straightened, it still tangles,

    This sorrow of separation,

    It is no ordinary flavor in the heart…

    The Lacquered Talisman is a rich, detailed look into 14th century China. Filled with accurate descriptions of the poverty, military and political turmoil, along with the religious customs, family congruity, respect for elders and dedication to one’s parents, the book drew me in and held my interest. There are a lot of details, but Laura Dennis presents them in a manner that I did not feel overwhelmed. Her scholarship and research is astounding.

    This book deals with Zhu’s life from childhood into young adulthood. The prologue and epilogue set the stage for the next book of Zhu’s adult life. I can’t wait for it!

    The Reviewer, Bill Mathis:

    Bill Mathis writes about diverse families, warts and all. His fourth novel will publish in December of 2020. Follow him on Facebook—Bill Mathis Writer Etc or his website: Bill resides in Beloit, Wisconsin and is looking forward to traveling again when it’s safe.

Wisconsin Writers Association

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