The best realist novels that take place in China

Why am I passionate about this?

Born and raised in Hong Kong, I received a fully bilingual (English and Chinese) education and also learned French in my youth. Since the release of my two historical Chinese novels: The Green Phoenix and Tales of Ming Courtesans, nostalgia for the magical world of wuxia fiction, which I grew up with, has spurred my desire to write wuxia stories following Jin Yong’s style, but with a mythical slant. Overall, my fiction writing has been influenced by Jin Yong, Emile Zola, and the wuxia/xianxia media.


I wrote...

Tales of Ming Courtesans

By Alice Poon,

Book cover of Tales of Ming Courtesans

What is my book about?

This is a riveting tale of female friendship, honor, and sacrifice for love, set in 17th Century China. Inspired by literary works and folklore, Tales of Ming Courtesans traces the destinies of three of the era’s most renowned courtesans from the seamy world of human trafficking and slavery to the cultured scene of the famously decadent pleasure district of Nanjing. They form a sworn sisterhood and remain loyal to each other through the cataclysmic events of the time, despite trials of injustice, mistreatment, and betrayal.

In 1664, Jingjing is reading her mother Rushi’s memoir and discovers her tragic story as well as those of her sworn sisters, Yuanyuan and Xiangjun. In piecing the stories together, Jingjing unravels the secret of her own true identity.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of City of Broken Promises

Alice Poon Why did I love this book?

This book has stayed in my memory even though I read it many years ago. Subtle in the telling, this novel is one that drills into your soul. Set in 18th century Macau (then a Portuguese enclave), it is a story of forbidden interracial love, prejudices, and intrigue surrounding a British trader surnamed Mierop and a Chinese orphan named Marta da Silva, based on true events. The author got his inspiration for the novel when he saw a portrait of a Chinese lady, Marta Mierop, in a Macau museum. In the story as well as in real life, Marta rose from her humble and wretched childhood to become a legend and one of the most influential women in Macau.

I love this novel for the impeccable setting, the moving plot, and the larger-than-life protagonist.

By Austin Coates,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked City of Broken Promises as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This historical novel is based on the true story of the affair between the Chinese orphan Martha Herop and her English lover, son of the founder of Lloyd's, in the 18th century.


Book cover of Pavilion of Women

Alice Poon Why did I love this book?

Pearl Buck is an author whom I admire for her genuine love and respect of the Chinese culture and people. This sentiment shines through her novels. Pavilion of Women is unique in that it highlights a pronounced social change in China in the early 20th century, when Western values began to nudge younger Chinese to unyoke themselves of old traditions and customs. The fastidious, all-wise, and freedom-seeking protagonist attempts to dictate other people’s lives to keep her household in order, but fails miserably. She finally learns from a renegade missionary that her rigid attitudes and lack of empathy are in fact the real shackles that hobble her.

I love this novel because character development is superbly handled.

By Pearl S. Buck,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Pavilion of Women as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Pavillion of Women (View amazon detail page)


Book cover of Wolf Totem

Alice Poon Why did I love this book?

This is a novel about the crucial role that wolves have played in maintaining the ecological balance on the Inner Mongolian steppes. This theme is woven into a suspenseful story of nomads’ brutal fights with cunning wolf packs that constantly prey on their herds. But wolves also keep the population of the “grass grazers” like gazelles and beavers down, thus protecting the grasslands. Readers come to appreciate the importance of balance in nature and understand why nomads hate wolves but also learn to co-exist with them.

I love this novel as it introduces me to a place and lifestyle that are deep in Nature’s embrace, while helping me learn the universal challenges in environmental protection.

By Jiang Rong, Howard Goldblatt (translator),

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Wolf Totem as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Beijing intellectual Chen Zhen volunteers to live in a remote settlement on the border of Inner and Outer Mongolia, where he discovers life of apparent idyllic simplicity amongst the nomads and the wild wolves who roam the plains. But when members of the People's Republic swarm in from the cities to bring modernity and productivity to the grasslands, the peace of Chen's solitary existence is shattered, and the delicate balance between humans and wolves is disrupted. Only time will tell whether the grasslands' environment and culture will ever recover...

Wolf Totem has been a sensation ever since it shot to…


Book cover of The Last Quarter of the Moon

Alice Poon Why did I love this book?

This is a very unique novel about the life of a nomadic tribe of hunters and reindeer herders called Evenki who reside in the northern part of Inner Mongolia. The story is told through an old woman at the end of the 20th century looking back at the joyful and tragic events of five generations of her clan. Wild nature is at its most beautiful and most cruel. Then the Japanese invasion, the Chinese lumber trade, and modernization gradually force the tribe to give up their carefree lifestyle. Sadness drips from the story, told in a wistful and quiet tone.

I love the novel for the rich imagery of nature and the human interaction humming underneath.

By Chi Zijian, Bruce Humes (translator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Last Quarter of the Moon as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'A long-time confidante of the rain and snow, I am ninety years old. The rain and snow have weathered me, and I too have weathered them'.

At the end of the twentieth-century an old woman sits among the birch trees and thinks back over her life, her loves, and the joys and tragedies that have befallen her family and her people. She is a member of the Evenki tribe who wander the remote forests of north-eastern China with their herds of reindeer, living in close sympathy with nature at its most beautiful and cruel.

An idyllic childhood playing by the…


Book cover of The Rice Sprout Song

Alice Poon Why did I love this book?

This is a heart-wrenching novel about hunger and starvation in the early 1950s in a Southern China village. The book title implies the joy of harvest, which has a rhetorical effect as it runs counter to the book theme. Its metaphor for hunger is watery gruel that the rural poor eat for every meal as they slowly starve. The story is about the impending great famine after the Communist Party introduces the land reform policies and how villagers suffer in silence atrocious government abuse. 

This novel is a must-read if you want to understand what starvation feels like.

By Eileen Chang,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Rice Sprout Song as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The first of Eileen Chang's novels to be written in English, The Rice-Sprout Song portrays the horror and absurdity that the land-reform movement brings to a southern village in China during the early 1950s. Contrary to the hopes of the peasants in this story, the redistribution of land does not mean an end to hunger. Man-made and natural disasters bring about the threat of famine, while China's involvement in the Korean War further deepens the peasants' misery. Chang's chilling depiction of the peasants' desperate attempts to survive both the impending famine and government abuse makes for spellbinding reading. Her critique…


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Marriage and Fatherhood in the Nazi SS

By Amy Carney,

Book cover of Marriage and Fatherhood in the Nazi SS

Amy Carney Author Of Marriage and Fatherhood in the Nazi SS

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Historian Professor Curl up with a good book reader Traveler – Berlin is my happy place!

Amy's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

When I was writing this book, several of my friends jokingly called it the Nazi baby book, with one insisting it would make a great title. Nazi Babies – admittedly, that is a catchy title, but that’s not exactly what my book is about. SS babies would be slightly more on topic, but it would be more accurate to say that I wrote a book about SS men as husbands and fathers.

From 1931 to 1945, leaders of the SS, a paramilitary group under the Nazi party, sought to transform their organization into a racially-elite family community that would serve…

Marriage and Fatherhood in the Nazi SS

By Amy Carney,

What is this book about?

From 1931 to 1945, leaders of the SS, a paramilitary group under the Nazi party, sought to transform their organization into a racially-elite family community that would serve as the Third Reich's new aristocracy. They utilized the science of eugenics to convince SS men to marry suitable wives and have many children.

Marriage and Fatherhood in the Nazi SS by Amy Carney is the first work to significantly assess the role of SS men as husbands and fathers during the Third Reich. The family community, and the place of men in this community, started with one simple order issued by…


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