Book Review: The Private Papers of Eastern Jewel by Maureen Lindley

The Private Papers of Eastern Jewel is a novelization of the life of Japanese spy Yoshiko Kawashima, who was also known as Eastern Jewel. While the book was interesting, it focused far too much on Yoshiko’s sexuality. The book’s description says:

Peking, 1914. When the eight-year-old princess Eastern Jewel is caught spying on her father’s liaison with a servant girl, she is banished from the palace, sent to live with a powerful family in Japan. Renamed Yoshiko Kawashima, she quickly falls in love with her adoptive country, where she earns a scandalous reputation, taking fencing lessons, smoking opium, and entertaining numerous lovers. Sent to Mongolia to become an obedient wife, Yoshiko mounts a daring escape and eventually finds her way back to Peking high society—this time with orders from the Japanese secret service.

Based on the true story of a rebellious woman who earned a controversial place in history, The Private Papers of Eastern Jewel is a vibrant reimagining of a thrilling life—a rich historical epic of palace intrigue, sexual manipulation, and international espionage.

The book followed Yoshiko’s sex life more than her life. One could say that Yoshiko’s sex life is inseparable from her life, which may be true, she did wield her sexuality like a weapon, but she was much more than that. In fact, many of the more interesting parts of her life, such as the fact that she led a cavalry of 3,000 men, was not even mentioned. She was also a pop culture figure in her own time. She released a collection of songs, was a popular radio personality, and there were many dime novels written about her exploits. She was an effective spy in her own right, not just as a hanger-on of the spies she was involved with. But all of this is left out of The Private Papers of Eastern Jewel. Everything Yoshiko did that didn’t require her to have sex with someone was left out of the book. I would have enjoyed the book more if it had focused on Yoshiko’s life on the whole and not just this one aspect.

I also take issue with the descriptions of Yoshiko’s earliest sexual experiences. When Yoshiko was fifteen-years old, she was raped by her grandfather, yet the book passes this incident off as consensual. When she was only sixteen, her step-father acted as a pimp, handing her over to his friends to do as they wish, but again, it is written as though Yoshiko is complicit in these encounters. The idea that Yoshiko was routinely sexually brutalized by her family never comes up, but is passed off as Yoshiko embracing and learning how to wield her sex.

While the book is classified as historical fiction, it had more elements of an erotica. While I have no problem with erotica (and even write erotica myself), it was unexpected, so readers should be made more aware of the book’s content before picking it up.

Have you read The Private Papers of Eastern Jewel? What did you think? 

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