Lilla's Feast" describes a time not so very long ago that seems impossibly distant. The world-wide expansion of European colonialism in the 19th century caused thousands of people, especially British, to seek their fortunes in the colonies and the trading emporiums in the exotic East, especially India and China. Lilla, the great-grandmother of the author was one of them. She was born in Chefoo, China in 1882 and spent most of her life in China or India.
Lilla never did anything of great importance, but she stands for all the Brits born and raised abroad who felt a bit foreign when they returned "home" to England on visits. During the course of her 100-year life Lilla was present during the peak of Western power and prestige in the Orient before 1900 and its rapid decline thereafter culminating in World War II in which Lilla and her family ended up in a Japanese concentration camp.
We follow Lilla through marriages, births,deaths, family troubles in India and China, the hardships of Weihsien internee camp in China during World War II, and finally back to an uneasy old age in England -- the money, power, and prestige of life as a privileged Westener in China now gone. It's a good story to be read about a class of people who saw their pleasant lives and lucrative livelihoods destroyed by war and politics. We don't feel all that sorry for Lilla, nor even that fond of her, but we are interested in her experiences. Along the way we get some fascinating pictures of the life of Brits in China -- and especially the hardships of Weihsien, a concentration camp that has catalyzed a sizeable body of literature. See "The Call" by John Hersey, a novel about a missionary who is interned in Weihsien and "Shantung Compound" by Lawrence Gilkey, a sociological classic about people under the stress of imprisonment.