The Empress Lover

‘Stories are the only thing that defy death.  Stories are truth.  I hereby give you mine…’

Peking, 1944:   Sir Edmund Backhouse is a man of many parts. A polyglot scholar. A closeted homosexual. A genius of perversity, a forger, arms salesman, occasional spy and fantasist. Also, if he is to be believed, the lover of the redoubtable Empress Dowager of China, a woman many decades his senior.  In his declining years, he writes a memoir –  ‘a wild tale’, as he calls it, ‘far-fetched and fantastical’ – of his affair with the Dowager Empress.

Beijing, 2010: Linnie is an Australian woman of uncertain provenance struggling to make a living in Beijing. A Sinophile, translator of film subtitles, and the author of an unpublished novel about Backhouse called The Empress Lover. One day, she receives an intriguingly old-fashioned letter that promises to reveal long hidden secrets…

And so two worlds collide.


‘The Empress Lover is a fascinating work, infused as it is with China’s history, Jaivin’s experience of it, and her own capacious imagination. Surely this is the novel to gain her a reputation as one of Australia’s best and most versatile writers.’ Sara Dowse, Sydney Morning Herald

‘…Jaivin skilfully interweaves fact and fiction, contemporary events with those of Beijing in 1989 and in 1944, within a narrative rich with literary, poetic and philosophical references.’ South China Morning Post

‘This is an elusive and enigmatic piece of writing, its fragmented narrative sifting through layers of Chinese politics and history, uncovering along the way the ghosts of the past that linger so persistently within the present. It’s a touching, inventive and gratifyingly unpredictable novel.’ The Australian


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