The Colonel and the Eunuch

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Pub Date May 09 2024 | Archive Date May 09 2024

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The phenomenal #1 Chinese bestseller, with over 2.5 million copies sold. This is a searing exploration of what makes a hero: a literary masterpiece, available in the English language for the very first time.

The boy grows up in a small village in south China listening to stories about the Colonel: some say he was a legendary army doctor during the war, some say he was a traitor to the Party, still others say he is a wicked sex machine. The stories are bawdy and mesmerizing, always larger than life. Yet in reality, the Colonel is just a middle-aged man who loves his cat. And why on earth does everyone call him 'the Eunuch'?

From these disparate sources, the boy tries to piece together who the Colonel really is, just as he himself grows up in a rapidly changing China. It is not until many years later, when the boy also becomes a middle-aged man, that he would look back and finally solve the puzzle.

The Colonel and the Eunuch is Mai Jia's first new novel in eight years and his most ambitious work to date. An exciting departure from spy thrillers, this is a coming-of-age story, a family saga, as well as a searing exploration of what makes a hero. The Colonel is Mai Jia's singular creation: an almost mythic figure shrouded in the tragedy of war and history, whose story will move even the most stone-hearted to tears.

The phenomenal #1 Chinese bestseller, with over 2.5 million copies sold. This is a searing exploration of what makes a hero: a literary masterpiece, available in the English language for the very...

Advance Praise

Reading this book is akin to summiting a perilous peak, trekking upwards until a faint path reveals itself, then looking back on the expansive view below... Mai Jia takes many risks, occasionally writing himself into what seem to be impossible situations, but he always dances away from disaster. We fear for him, but then we are forced to admire his skill even more - Mo Yan, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature

Uses the mythic adventures of its protagonist to connect the dots of China's 20th century history... In this latest work, Mai Jia, noted for his spy novels, leaves his comfort zone to explore the mysteries of human nature... [A] testament to the author's ambition and commitment to his artform - Southern Metropolis Daily

The novel's disgraced Colonel is emblematic of our parents' generation. The Colonel and the Eunuch is a cello sonata for our fathers - Su Tong, winner of the Mao Dun Literature Prize

Reading this book is akin to summiting a perilous peak, trekking upwards until a faint path reveals itself, then looking back on the expansive view below... Mai Jia takes many risks, occasionally...

Available Editions

EDITION Hardcover
ISBN 9781804540268
PRICE £20.00 (GBP)

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Average rating from 13 members

Featured Reviews

The Colonel and the Eunuch is an amazing book by Mai Jia that has already sold over 2,5 million copies in China. With a masterful translation by Dylan Levi King English speakers/readers can now see what the fuss is about.

This is a hugely entertaining tale that's part coming of age story,part historical fiction,part social history,part war story and much,much else....most importantly an excellent story.

We first meet an unnamed boy in a small village in Southern China not long after the Korean War. Amongst the many local characters is the enigmatic war hero "The Colonel" as he is called to his face,"The Eunuch" behind his back by those who disparage him. Locals,including the boy's family,seem to either love him or loathe him for reasons that only become apparent as his history is related throughout the book.

When the Cultural Revolution hits the village , local bullies and nonentities join the Red Guards and old certainties and traditions are ,often literally,demolished,the Colonel is targeted and branded a traitor and collaborator ,amongst other things.

A story that spans decades,from the boy's childhood to his senior years,the Colonel's story emerges as circumstances demand,his heroics on all sides during China's most turbulent period,his life,loves and complex relationships. The book is full of excellent characters,some good,some bad,a few evil and a handful that show many sides.

I'm a big fan of Pierre Le Maitre's historical novels,full of odd characters and bizarre events and this book reminded me very much of those.

An excellent read that I really enjoyed.

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This was a well translated and written book. It has a charm to it, filled with characters who are well developed and endearing, even the awful ones! In the midst of a very unstable and politically fraught era, the cultural revolution underpins the goings on in the village. A worthwhile read. Many thanks to Netgalley for an arc of this book.

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I like this book because I think it developed very wealthy characters. I love historical fiction, so this was the kind of book that I wanted to read. I think they also did a fantastic work writing it, and the horrible circumstances that this book is setting on it just make it like a delightful book. I think it's well-written. I think the plot was perfect. I think that the structure of the book made it easy to read, and I think we have to take a lot to the translator who did this brilliant work and that in the translation, the book didn't lose its essence.

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Colonel or eunuch or both, that is the question the whole village is wondering. One extraordinary man's story through the eyes of a child and the words of the village, until the child grows up and discovers the truth. Fascinating characters and setting.

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The Colonel and the Eunuch spans the lifetime of the narrator, We learn about the culture, relationships and violence within the town they both live in. The Colonel to some, the Eunuch to others, he is a mystery for most of the book. As we move into the narrator's story as an adult, everything falls into place and the harsh language and treatment throughout paints a picture of the time and the political climate. It's an era that I had little knowledge of previously but I highly recommend this book.

Thank you to both the publisher and NetGalley for a DRC in exchange for my honest opinion.

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‘The Colonel and the Eunuch were different names for the same person.’

Twentieth century rural China provides the setting for this novel. Our protagonist, a boy, has grown up in a small village listening to stories about the Colonel, whom some call the Eunuch. As the story gradually unfolds, we learn why some consider the Colonel a hero and others consider him a traitor. The boy wonders: is the Colonel a Eunuch? Who can answer this question?
The boy grows to manhood at a time when China in undergoing rapid change. But he never forgets the Colonel and, as he himself grows into middle age, he learns the truth.

‘I didn’t know shame could weigh so much that it could break someone.’

I found this an absorbing read. Yes, it is slow paced. Yes, almost every character has at least one nickname and at times I really had to concentrate – much as I imagine the boy had to as the story began. While I think the novel is easier to understand if you have some knowledge of twentieth century Chinese history (especially of the war between China and Japan), such knowledge is not essential. Mai Jia takes the reader deep into Chinese rural life, through rumour and superstition into the life of a man who has been elevated within the village to a near mythic status.

Mai Jia shows more intimate view of twentieth century life in China, one in which the Colonel retains his mystery until near the end. Was he a hero? Was he a villain? Who can be trusted?

I intend to reread this novel. The setting is an important part of the story, but in my first read I was more focused on trying to learn the ‘truth’ about the Colonel.

‘A person has two sides, like a coin. There’s a good side and a bad side.’

Note: My thanks to NetGalley and Head of Zeus for providing me with a free electronic copy of this book for review purposes.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

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