The girl from junchow, p.1
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       The Girl from Junchow, p.1

           Kate Furnivall
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The Girl from Junchow

  Table of Contents

  Title Page

  Copyright Page




























































  Teaser chapter



  “This romantic confection can make a reader shiver with dread for the horrors visited on the two heroines imprisoned in a labor camp and quiver with anticipation for their happy endings. Furnivall shows she has the narrative skills to deliver a sweeping historical epic.”

  —Library Journal

  “Furnivall again pinpoints a little-known historical setting and brings it vividly to life through the emotions and insights of her characters. Beautifully detailed descriptions of the land and the compelling characters who move through a surprisingly upbeat plot make this one of the year’s best reads.” —Booklist


  “I read it in one sitting! Not only a gripping love story, but a novel that captures the sights, smells, hopes, and desires of Russia at the dawn of the twentieth century, and pre-Revolutionary China, so skillfully that readers will feel they are there.” —Kate Mosse

  “The kaleidoscopic intensity of British writer Kate Furnivall’s debut novel, The Russian Concubine, compellingly transports us back to 1928 and across the globe to the city of Junchow in northern China. . . . Lydia is an endearing character, a young woman with pluck and determination. . . . With artistry, Furnivall weaves a main plot that hinges on Lydia’s love affair with Chang An Lo, a Chinese youth who is a dedicated Communist at a time when Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalists are gaining ground. . . . Furnivall’s novel is an admirable work of historical fiction.” —Minneapolis Star Tribune

  “Furnivall vividly evokes Lydia’s character and personal struggles against a backdrop of depravity and corruption.” —Publishers Weekly

  “The wonderfully drawn and all-too-human characters struggle to survive in a world of danger and bewildering change . . . caught between cultures, ideologies—and the growing realization that only the frail reed of love is strong enough to withstand the destroying winds of time.” —Diana Gabaldon

  “This stunning debut brings the atmosphere of 1920s China vividly to life. . . . Furnivall draws an excellent portrait of this distant time and place.” —Historical Novels Review


  Published by the Penguin Group

  Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

  375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, USA

  Penguin Group (Canada), 90 Eglinton Avenue East, Suite 700, Toronto, Ontario M4P 2Y3, Canada (a division of Pearson Penguin Canada Inc.)

  Penguin Books Ltd., 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England

  Penguin Group Ireland, 25 St. Stephen’s Green, Dublin 2, Ireland (a division of Penguin Books Ltd.)

  Penguin Group (Australia), 250 Camberwell Road, Camberwell, Victoria 3124, Australia

  (a division of Pearson Australia Group Pty. Ltd.)

  Penguin Books India Pvt. Ltd., 11 Community Centre, Panchsheel Park, New Delhi—110 017, India

  Penguin Group (NZ), 67 Apollo Drive, Rosedale, North Shore, 0632, New Zealand

  (a division of Pearson New Zealand Ltd.)

  Penguin Books (South Africa) (Pty.) Ltd., 24 Sturdee Avenue, Rosebank, Johannesburg 2196,

  South Africa

  Penguin Books Ltd., Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England

  This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales, is entirely coincidental. The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.

  Copyright © 2009 Kate Furnivall

  All rights reserved.

  No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author’s rights. Purchase only authorized editions.

  BERKLEY ® is a registered trademark of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

  The “B” design is a trademark belonging to Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

  Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

  Furnivall, Kate.

  The girl from Junchow / Kate Furnivall.—Berkley trade pbk. ed.

  p. cm.

  eISBN : 978-1-101-06003-2

  1. Russians—Fiction. 2. Political refugees—Soviet Union—Fiction. 3. Young women—

  Travel—Russia (Federation)—Fiction. 4. Political prisoners—Soviet Union—Fiction.

  5. Fathers and daughters—Fiction. 6. Reunions—Fiction. 7. Soviet Union—History—

  1925-1953—Fiction. I. Title.

  PR6116.U76G57 2009





  Edward and Richard

  Liz and Anne

  with all my love


  A big thank-you to Jackie Cantor and all at Berkley for their enthusiasm and sensitive editorial support, as well as their elegant artwork. Also to Amy Schneider for her fine attention to the detail of the manuscript.

  Special thanks to my agent, Teresa Chris, for always being there and always knowing when to listen or encourage or bully—depending on which I need at the time.

  I am deeply indebted to the lovely Elena Shifrina for her dedicated research in Moscow and her help with the Russian language.

  Finally, my love and thanks to Norman for everything else.


  LYDIA IVANOVA COULDN’T SLEEP. TINY RATS WERE taking bites out of her brain. Ever since she’d arrived in Soviet Russia the nights had been hard, and through the long dark hours it felt as though sharp yellow teeth were gnawing through her skull. Sometimes she could smell them. Worse, sometimes she could hear them. Chip, chip, chip.

  She was angry with herself for listening to them. At seventeen years old she should know better. She sat up in the narrow bed and dragged her fingers through her tangled mane to rid herself of the noise, yanking any rats out by their
tails. She had to keep her mind clear. But nights were never quiet in this hotel, one of Stalin’s new breed of concrete rabbit warrens that she found impossible to navigate. She was always getting lost in it, and that startled her. She couldn’t afford to get lost. She tucked her chin tightly to her chest and closed her eyes, trying to find the bright warm place she kept in there, but tonight it was impossible. Snores were rattling in from the next room and a couple were arguing farther up the corridor.

  Lydia was impatient now for the morning to arrive. She was tempted to leave her bed and prowl up and down the scrap of floor space in her room, eager to push on to the next step. But she was learning to keep herself in check, to curb her instinct to seize each day by the throat. So to fill the dead time she unzipped the money belt at her waist, which she didn’t take off even at night. It felt warm and soft to the touch. From it she extracted first her Russian passport. In the trickle of yellow light that spilled through the window from the gas lamp outside, it looked genuine enough. But it was forged. It was a good one and had cost her more than she could afford to pay, but every time she had to hand it over for inspection her heart clawed at her chest.

  Next she pulled out her British passport and ran a finger over its embossed lion. It was ironic. This one really was genuine because of her English stepfather, but it was even more dangerous to her than the Russian one. She kept it well hidden in the money belt among the roubles because all foreigners foolish enough to set foot on the black soil of Soviet Russia were at best watched like hawks, at worst interrogated and interned.

  Finally she took out the bundle of rouble notes and considered counting them yet again but resisted the temptation. Instead she weighed them in her hand. The bundle was growing lighter. She made a low sound, almost a growl, in the back of her throat and thought of what it would mean if they ran out. Quickly she pushed everything back into the money belt and zipped it up hard, as if to zip up her fear.

  Her hand slid instinctively to the thong around her neck and the amulet that hung there. It was a quartz dragon. A powerful Chinese symbol, rose pink and nestling against her flesh. She circled her fingers around it.

  “Chang An Lo,” she whispered.

  Her mouth curled into a smile as she saw the bright warm place rise into view. She closed her eyes and her feet started to run, flying over ice and snow, feeling the morning sun reach out its golden fingers to stroke her skin, her toes suddenly bare in soft treacly sand, and beside the shimmering sheet of water a figure . . .

  A door banged and the image slipped from Lydia’s grasp. Chyort! Outside, the sky was still as dark and dense as her own secrets, but she’d had enough of waiting and rolled out of bed. She pulled on her long brown coat, which she used in place of a dressing gown, and padded barefoot down the hall to the communal washroom. With a yawn she pushed open the door and was surprised to find the overhead light already on. Someone was standing at one of the washbasins.

  The room smelled. An odd mix of lavender, disinfectant, and layers of something more unsavory underneath. But Lydia wasn’t complaining because she’d smelled worse. Much worse. This was better than most of the communal bathrooms she had trawled through recently. White tiles covered the walls right up to the ceiling, mottled black ones on the floor, and three white basins lined one wall. Yes, one was chipped and the other had lost its plug, probably stolen, but everything was spotless, including the mirror above the basins. In the corner a tall cupboard door stood half open, revealing a damp mop, bucket, and disinfectant bottle inside. Obviously a cleaner had been in early.

  Brushing back her unruly hair, Lydia headed toward one of the three cubicles and glanced with only casual interest at the figure by the basin. Instantly she froze. The other occupant of the room was a woman in her thirties. Average height, slender, wearing a burgundy woolen dressing gown, her feet in stylish little maroon-and-gold slippers. On her finger a thick gold wedding band looked too heavy for her narrow fingers. But Lydia saw none of that. All she saw was the swirl of dark silky hair that was twisted into a loose knot at the back of her head. A narrow neck, long and fragile.

  For one blinding moment Lydia believed it was her mother. Returned from the dead. Valentina, come to join in the search for her missing husband, Jens Friis.

  An ice pick of pain under Lydia’s ribs wrenched her back to reality, and she turned away abruptly, hurried into the first stall, locked the door, and sat down. It wasn’t Valentina, of course it wasn’t. Reason told her it couldn’t be. Just someone of similar age with similar hair. And the neck. That same creamy vulnerable neck.

  Lydia shook her head and blinked hard. Valentina was dead. Died in China last year, so why was her mind playing such tricks? Her mother had been the victim of a hand grenade meant for someone else; she’d been just a beautiful innocent bystander. Lydia had cradled her shattered and lifeless body in her arms. So why this? This sudden confusion in her mind? She placed one hand over her mouth to hold in any screams that rattled around inside her lungs.

  SHE HAD NO IDEA HOW LONG SHE REMAINED LIKE THAT IN the stuffy little stall, but it felt like forever. Eventually she unlocked the door, walked over to one of the spare washbasins, rinsed her hands, and splashed cold water over her face. Her cheeks were burning. Beside her the woman was still washing her hands. Lydia avoided looking in the long mirror above the basins because she didn’t want to see her own face, never mind the other woman’s. But her eyes were drawn to the movements the woman was performing next to her. They were hypnotic.

  With firm rhythmic strokes she was dragging a wooden nail brush down her arms from elbow to fingertips, over and over again. Smooth and unhurried, but relentless. Slowly she rotated each arm so that the soapy bristles scraped over the soft underside as well as the upper skin, first one, then the other. Then back to the first one. Strong, stern strokes. Lydia couldn’t make herself look away. The woman was using a bar of lavender soap that scented the air, and the water in the basin foamed with bubbles. Not Russian soap then, that was certain. Bubbles were almost impossible to create with the greasy Soviet utility soap. More likely French from one of the shops open only to the Communist Party elite. On a smattering of the bubbles gleamed tiny specks of scarlet. Her skin looked raw.

  Without looking up from her task, the woman asked, “Are you all right?”

  The voice was completely calm, totally composed, and it took Lydia by surprise.

  “Da,” Lydia said. “Yes.”

  “You were a long time in there.”

  “Was I?”

  “Have you been crying?”


  The woman sank one whole forearm into the basin, let the soapy water swirl over it, and murmured a long, drawn-out “Aah!”

  Lydia wasn’t sure whether it was pain or pleasure. The woman flicked a glance in her direction, and for the first time Lydia saw her eyes. They were dark brown, deep set, and not a bit like Valentina’s. She had pale skin, as if she had lived her life indoors.

  “Don’t stare,” the woman said in a sharp tone.

  Lydia blinked, leaning back against the washbasin. “We all do things,” she said, and folded her coat tight across her chest. The room was chill. “To make ourselves feel better, I mean.”

  “Like shutting yourself in a lavatory?”

  “No. Not that.”

  “So”—the speculative eyes slid again to Lydia—“what does a young girl like you do to make herself feel better?”

  “I steal.” Lydia hadn’t meant to say it. She was appalled that the words had crept out. It had something to do with the unreal hour of the morning.

  One dark arched eyebrow shot up. “Why?”

  Lydia shrugged. It was too late to take the words back. “The usual. My mother and I were poor, so we needed money.”

  “And now?”

  Lydia shrugged once more, a gesture her brother was always pointing out made her seem unthinking. Was he right? Did it? She stared thoughtfully at the neat maroon slippers.

  “It became a ha
bit?” the woman asked.

  “Something like that, I suppose.” She glanced up and caught the woman’s gaze intent on her, saw it slide away self-consciously from Lydia’s smooth pale hands to her own scuffed ones. In the mirror reflection, she saw something falter deep in the dark eyes, a crack opening up somewhere. Lydia gave her a smile. At this unearthly hour of the morning, normal rules of conduct didn’t quite apply. The woman returned the smile, lifted her arm from the water, and gestured toward a smart leather bag on the windowsill.

  “Feel free to steal from me, if it helps,” she offered.

  “Don’t tempt me,” Lydia smiled.

  The woman laughed and reached for a pristine square of white toweling that was draped ready over one shoulder, but in doing so, she tugged too hard and it tumbled to the floor. Lydia watched the pale face crumple in panic.

  “It’s all right,” she reassured the woman quickly and stooped to pick it up. “The floor’s clean. It’s just been washed.”

  “I know. I washed it. I washed everything.”

  Lydia spoke soothingly, in the same tone she had used with her pet rabbit when he was nervous. “Don’t worry, no harm done. You can use the other side of the towel, the side that didn’t touch the floor.”


  “There’s a hotel towel on the wall over there.”

  “No. I can’t touch that . . . thing.” She said the last word as if it were covered in slime.

  “Do you have another one?”

  The woman breathed out. Nodded and pointed to her bag. Lydia immediately went to it, removed a small paper package from its depths, and opened it up to reveal another pristine square of white. Without actually touching the material anywhere, she held it out to the woman but kept a good arm’s length away from her. Any closer she knew would be too close. For both of them.


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