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Fire From The Sun [Kindle Edition]

John Derbyshire
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)

Kindle Price: $5.99

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Book Description

Fire from the Sun novel is a romantic and historical epic painted on a very broad canvas. There are 76 chapters altogether. Each chapter is “set up” with an epigrammatic couplet, in the style of old Chinese novels. There is also a brief postscript (part of the story), and a glossary of operatic terms.

The novel follows the fortunes of two people, William Leung and Margaret Han, from the mid-1960s through to the early 1990s. They are childhood friends in a small town in southwestern China. Then the Great Cultural Revolution divides them and they follow separate paths to success in the Western world: William as a Wall Street tycoon and Margaret as a singer of Italian opera.

The background of the story is recent Chinese history, bracketed by two great upheavals: the onset of the Cultural Revolution in 1966, and the student movement of 1989. Ten chapters are given over to the latter, based on much reading, research, and personal testimony about events in and around Tiananmen Square.

The book’s action ranges all over China, from the lush valleys of the southwest to the frozen plains of Manchuria, from the garrison settlements of occupied Tibet to elite apartments in Beijing, from the easy-going corruption of 1970s Hong Kong to the wakening bustle of post-Mao Shanghai. It then moves on to the international opera circuit, the boardrooms of Wall Street, and the habitations of the rich in Manhattan and Long Island’s East End.

Some actual celebrities have walk-on parts in the book: Bruce Lee, Richard Nixon, the Prince of Wales. Some others are presented under disguises of varying depth: Luciano Pavarotti, Joan Sutherland, Barbra Streisand, Rudy Giuliani, and some that only close followers of opera or 1980s Wall Street affairs will recognize.

Fire from the Sun is a plain third-person narrative, not adventurous in technique. My aim has been just to tell a story — a realistic, interesting, and, I hope, occasionally moving story. If the presentation is in any way unusual, that is because of influences from Chinese literature. There is a certain detachment, a certain distance between the omniscient narrator and the inhabitants of the book, as there is in classic Chinese novels like Red Chamber Dream or Journey to the West, or in much medieval Chinese poetry, especially Wang Wei’s and Po Chü-I’s. A fair quantity of Chinese folklore, verse, idiom, and literary allusion is included, always in context and in translation. (There are only five actual Chinese ideographs in the book, included for dramatic effect.)

The great Chinese authors, and many of the poets, wrote from a standpoint of Buddhist other-worldliness. Fire from the Sun doesn’t have exactly that sensibility, only a little more distance between narrator and characters than is usual. I am not a Buddhist; but one of my characters is, and the heroine is headed in the same direction by the book’s end.


Product Details

  • File Size: 1510 KB
  • Print Length: 1068 pages
  • Publisher: Chu Hartley Publishers (February 10, 2012)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00785HJSQ
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Lending: Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #649,153 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful panoramic page turner February 16, 2012
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Despite its length the book is a page turner and you will go through it in a flash. While the prose is the clear straightforward one of NYT bestsellers (eg Ken Follett) so nothing fancy and in consequence the emotional content is lost on occasion when major things happen or are revealed, the attraction of the novel is not in its literary qualities but in the events seen through the eyes of the two main characters in alternating chunks of pages, with some convergence towards the end.

Starting in a provincial Chinese town in 1965, our main heroes - Weilin/William and Yuezhu/Margaret are 8 year olds that meet and become best friends (and feel the first stirrings of attraction without of course knowing what is it) at the town pool.

Weilin is from an "intellectual" family and his dad is a math professor at the local college, while they have books, vinyl records and other trappings of the educated of the time and place and the boy, only child, is very handsome, bright and quite interested in math and reading.

Yuezhu is from a politically correct family - her father is an army officer of peasant stock and firm revolutionary principles though even in the People's Army, careers rise and fall depending on whose commander's commander is ascending or descending. Yuezhu is beautiful, loves dancing and music and while she is not that interested in math she likes being around with Weilin and they keep meeting despite being at different schools; however Yuezhu is also in awe of her older half brother, a rebellious teen who becomes a main leader of the Red Guards when the Cultural Revolution is unleashed soon after.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Masterpiece Languishing in Obscurity May 7, 2013
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
In a recent Radio Derb segment John Derbyshire was talking about Tiananmen Square and told listeners that if they wanted to know about that subject, they should go to Amazon.com and download his book "Fire From the Sun." I did that and discovered one of the best novels I've read in the past 25 years.

The story starts in China in the early 1960s and is told through the experiences of two main characters: a boy named Weilin, who later takes the English name William, and a girl named Yuezhu, who later takes the name Margaret. The two have a childhood crush on one another but that soon ends. These children come of age through Mao's reign of terror known as the Cultural Revolution, which has a devastating effect on William.

William's parents are deemed to be bourgeois and counter-revolutionary by the young radicals known as the Red Guards, and the parents suffer terribly for that reason. Margaret's father is an army officer, which puts her in good stead with the Red Guards. She in fact becomes a Little Red Guard and in her own small and childish way, helps, or thinks she is helping, to persecute William's father. William develops a life-long hatred for her that prevails into their adulthood and drives some of the primary action in the book.

Margaret grows up to be a beautiful woman who has a talent for singing, and she eventually becomes an opera star. I fell in love with Margaret the same as I did with Tess of the D'Urbervilles and Scarlett O'Hara. In fact this novel is so well written, the reader will undoubtedly have strong feelings either for or against all the major characters and more than a few of the minor ones.

I don't want to give away any of the story.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars a vey nice surprise February 18, 2012
By CB
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I've read the author's excellent nonfiction (Prime Obsession, Seeing Calvin Coolidge in a Dream), so I decided to give his fictional work a try.

Half a page in, I realized that I had read this book years ago --- don't you hate it when that happens?

For some reason, I kept reading, which really paid off --- I had only read maybe 15% last time. I probably started it on a plane and left it in a seat pocket somewhere.

Anyway, this book is a real page-turner and a genuine pleasure. Nonfiction writers who try fiction often make a hash of it. But this is a solid piece of journeyman's writing. The protagonists immediately engage your interest without straining your credulity --- there is no handsome brilliant dashing millionaire who works with a gorgeous brilliant voluptuous milionairess to defeat oh never mind. Rather, the author's writing is believable and attention-getting, with flair, good literary instincts, and just the right amount of historical detail.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent, detailed story about 2 lives intersecting March 19, 2012
By Pundit
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Derbyshire has woven an excellent story about two people, both Chinese, that gives more than a glimpse of the frustrations of life and love spanning decades from the cultural revolution almost to the present. The striking thing for me was the detail about life in China including the absurdities that are part of the unending struggle to maneuver within the bureaucracy - and how the bureaucracy itself is an outgrowth of thousands of years of cultural development. The struggle for freedom that, no doubt, many Chinese face everyday, even in the later period of openness. I was struck by the abject cruelty that seems acceptable to so many Chinese, and the quiet reserve of those who resist it. I can't verify the veracity of the description of the Tianimin Square uprising, but it was compelling, if long. I can however, verify that Derb did his opera homework. The descriptions of opera and a singer building a voice and career are uncannily accurate. Even the protagonist William's homosexuality and the results of his lifestyle were interestingly woven into the story.

In short, this book, though long, was well worth the effort. Bravo Derb.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
1.0 out of 5 stars A Good Book Ruined
Mr. Derbyshire started out writing a great book about early Communist China, and then decided to ruin it with pederasty and other perversions. A great disappointment.
Published 2 months ago by AT
4.0 out of 5 stars Good story, great personalization of modern China
Derbyshire's background of having lived in Hong Kong and having a wife from the PRC gives him a level of knowledge about these places and the different cultures that shines... Read more
Published 11 months ago by South Dakota Farmboy
5.0 out of 5 stars A long, productive read.
This is a very long book but well worth the time investment. At it's conclusion I felt like I used to about the books of Pearl Buck, that I had learned a great deal about China. Read more
Published 18 months ago by John J. Geyer
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent popular novel, poor formating
I generally don't bother with self-published novels, but as I had already become a fan of Derbyshire's non-fiction I decided to take a chance on this. I'm glad I did. Read more
Published 19 months ago by D. Owens
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant novel.
Incredible, very worthwhile read. Amazon wants me to write 20 words or more, but I hate to give anything away on such a great story. Read more
Published on July 11, 2012 by littlepb
5.0 out of 5 stars Moving, deeply researched historical fiction
Heartbreaking. Inspiring. Moving. One-thousand pages.

Fire from the Sun is the best historical fiction I've read in more than a decade, since Aztec, by Gary Jennings. Read more
Published on April 25, 2012 by Dan tdaxp
4.0 out of 5 stars A long, gripping, page turner.
I know of John Derbyshire mostly from his opinion journalism; there's been a spot of bother about that recently, when an article of his offended a lot of people. Read more
Published on April 13, 2012 by Notvinnik
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