Novelist Amy Kwei explores Chinese history


Amy Kwei discusses her novel at the book reading event. (Photo by Joanne Wong)

Amy Kwei discusses her novel at the book reading event. (Photo by Joanne Wong)

Author Amy Kwei read her new novel, family saga “A Concubine for the Family,” at the Boston Chinese Neighborhood Center on Dec. 11.

Set in late 1930s China, the story focuses on Purple Jade, the matriarch of the Huang family, and the interfamilial relationships in an upper-class family.  Having produced no male heir to the family, and in an attempt to save the family’s honor, Purple Jade makes the difficult decision to present a concubine to her husband as a birthday gift.

“The story could not exist without the historical background,” Kwei said. Fusing her own family’s historical background into the novel and its characters, Kwei painted a fascinating picture of daily life in Chinese society between the tumultuous years of 1937 and 1941, when the Second Sino-Japanese War unfolded.  In addition, Kwei conducted extensive background research on Chinese history to align the story with real historical events.

“What sticks in readers’ minds are the emotions of the characters and how they managed to survive this difficult period,” Kwei said.  The character of Purple Jade is based on Kwei’s own grandmother, who was presented with a similar situation and ultimately decided to betroth a concubine to her husband.

Born in Shanghai and raised in Hong Kong’s colonial education system, Kwei grew up straddling different cultures and speaking a blend of Chinese dialects.  Kwei mirrored her own cultural experiences in the young school girls depicted in the novel.

Kwei, who retired from teaching psychology at Bennett College and Dutchess Community College, has twice won the Talespinner Competition sponsored by the Poughkeepsie Journal. Her short stories and essays have appeared in numerous publications.

Kwei is currently working on the sequel to the family saga, “Under the Red Moon.”

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