Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Publication Date: April 7th, 2020
Genre: Women’s Fiction, Historical Fiction
An evocative historical novel set in 1930’s Indochine, about the American wife of a Michelin heir who journeys to the French colony in the name of family fortune, and the glamorous, tumultuous world she finds herself in—and the truth she may be running from.
On a humid afternoon in 1933, American Jessie Lesage steps off a boat from Paris and onto the shores of Vietnam. Accompanying her French husband Victor, an heir to the Michelin rubber fortune, she’s certain that their new life is full of promise, for while the rest of the world is sinking into economic depression, Indochine is gold for the Michelins. Jessie knows that their vast plantations near Saigon are the key to the family’s prosperity, and while they have been marred in scandal, she needs them to succeed for her husband’s sake—and to ensure that her trail of secrets stays hidden in the past.
Jessie dives into the glamorous colonial world, where money is king and morals are brushed aside, and meets Marcelle de Fabry, a spellbinding French woman with a moneyed Indochinese lover, the silk tycoon Khoi Nguyen. Descending on Jessie’s world like a hurricane, Marcelle proves to be an exuberant guide to ex-pat life. But hidden beneath her vivacious exterior is a fierce desire to put the colony back in the hands of its people, starting with the Michelin plantations, fueled by a terrible wrong committed against her and Khoi’s loved ones in Paris.
Yet it doesn’t take long for the sun-drenched days and champagne-soaked nights to catch up with Jessie. With an increasingly fractured mind, her affection for Indochine falters. And as a fiery political struggle builds around her, Jessie begins to wonder what’s real in a friendship that she suspects may be nothing but a house of cards.
Motivated by love, driven by ambition, and seeking self-preservation at all costs, Jessie and Marcelle each toe the line between friend and foe, ethics and excess. Cast against the stylish backdrop of 1930s Indochine, in a time and place defined by contrasts and convictions, A Hundred Suns is historical fiction at its lush, suspenseful best.
The house of a hundred suns.A Hundred Suns by Karin Tanabe
When I saw that A Hundred Suns was based in 1930’s French-occupied Vietnam, I was intrigued. I haven’t read a book about that period that A Hundred Suns took place in. I have also been intrigued by Vietnam. To my recollection, I haven’t read any books that take place in Vietnam. That was a huge reason why I decided to read the book.
A Hundred Suns did start slowly and stayed slow for the first 60% of the book. I got that the author had to lay Marcelle and Jessie’s backstories, but it seemed a bit dragged out. Once the scene at the train station happened, though, the book sped up. The last 40% of the book flew by. I wish that the first part of it did.
There was a small amount of lag in the events before Jessie’s unfortunate incident at the train station. It only lasted about a chapter, and the author was able to get the book back on track. Other than that small lag, the writing flowed beautifully, even with two separate POVs (Jessie and Marcelle). The author was able to switch back and forth between their characters seamlessly. I loved it!!
I liked Jessie. She did come across as conniving at the beginning of the book. I mean, she convinced her husband to move to Vietnam. But, as I got to know her character, I could see how strong she was. Her strength was apparent in the last half of the book.
Marcelle was my favorite in the book. She was deliciously devious and pulled off her plan perfectly. Even when Khoi was having issues with what was going on, Marcelle didn’t. She was willing to do anything to get revenge. And oh boy, did she ever. I did feel bad for her, though. Blinded by her hatred, she let it overcome her. She also failed to see that Jessie had nothing to do with what was going on in the plantations. To her, Jessie was the more available of the two options.
I didn’t like Khoi or Victor. Khoi was an enabler. He talked a good game, but when push came to shove, he wasn’t behind Marcelle when she wanted to go to the next step. He kept switching back and forth, and it drove me batty. I didn’t like Victor because he knew what was going on at the plantations, and he contributed to it!!
I thought that the use of Vietnamese (or Indochinese) and French language added an extra oomph to the plotline. As much as I liked it, I do wish that there was a glossary to explain specific terms. I ended up having to use Google Translate a lot to understand so of the words.
I do want to give a small warning. There is drug use (opium smoking) detailed in the book. I did like that the author chose to show how casual people were about smoking opium back then. But there might be people who are triggered by it. There is also a scene from when Jessie visits one of the Michelin plantations, where she witnesses pretty gruesome torture. I like to think that I am immune to stuff like that, and that made me pause while reading.
The end of A Hundred Suns was terrific. As I said, the book took off in that last 40% of the book. I am not going to get into it, but I will say that Marcelle and Khoi got what they deserved.
I would give A Hundred Suns an Adult rating. There is sex. There is mild language. There is mild violence. I would recommend that no one under the age of 21 read this book.
I would reread A Hundred Suns. I would recommend it to family and friends.
**I voluntarily reviewed a complimentary copy of this book**