Williams, Adam 1953-
WILLIAMS, Adam 1953-
ADDRESSES: Agent—c/o Publicity Department, Thomas Dunne Books, 175 5th Ave., New York, NY 10010.
CAREER: Worked for Sino-British Trade Council; Jardine Matheson, Beijing, China, chief representative, 1986–; British Chamber of Commerce, China, chair, 1996–98.
AWARDS, HONORS: Named to Order of the British Empire, 1999.
The Palace of Heavenly Pleasure (novel), Thomas Dunne Books (New York, NY), 2004.
SIDELIGHTS: The son of a taipan, or foreign businessman operating in China, Adam Williams has strong ties to both East and West and is a well-known reporter and participant in the world of international commerce between China and the United Kingdom. In fact, his family's Chinese roots go back to the 1880s, the time period that is the setting for his first novel, The Palace of Heavenly Pleasure. This was a period of extreme tension in China, with the Manchu Dynasty teetering on its throne and the Chinese people increasingly aggravated by the concessions granted to foreigners. These tensions culminated in the Boxer Rebellion of 1900, a central event in Williams's novel during which China's foreigners were violently attacked.
At the center of the story is a love affair between Henry Manners, a secret agent for Queen Victoria, and Helen Frances Delamere, the beautiful daughter of a British businessman and the fiancée of dull but dutiful Tom. As their affair plays out in the invented northern Chinese city of Shishan, scandalizing other Westerners from a fanatical American missionary to a compassionate Scottish doctor, all around them the native Chinese are stirring. When the Boxer Rebellion erupts, the Western colony is caught in the middle. To complicate matters, they are also subject to the machinations of Madame Liu, the owner of a brothel that gives the book its title, and her sadistic son, Ren Ren, who decides to help the rebels, "using skills he honed breaking the spirits of male and female 'recruits' for the Palace," according to Library Journal contributor Kathy Piehl.
Williams does not shy away from the more gruesome aspects of the Boxer Rebellion, which was filled with beheadings and other brutal punishments inflicted by long-suffering peasants seeking revenge against landlords and Western interlopers alike. At the same time, Williams brings out the more philosophical elements of the gulf between the European and Chinese outlooks, particularly in conversations between Dr. Edward Airton, a Scottish physician, and the local Mandarin magistrate. The Mandarin's mix of cultured intelligence and pragmatic acceptance of the injustices of the world by turns enchant and appall the moralistic physician. Throughout the story, "Williams's mastery of language and plotting keeps contrivance and coincidence at bay, although he crosses the line into melodrama from time to time," according to a Publishers Weekly reviewer. He also provides a great deal of insight into a dramatic period. Writing in the Asian Review of Books, Jane Ram commented, "Whether you are looking for a substantial page-turner or a fast education in some of the more obscure areas of Chinese social history, this novel gives exceptional value for [the] money." Similarly, Booklist contributor Margaret Flanagan concluded: "Epic in scope and execution, this ambitious first novel opens a window between two worlds poised on the brink of extinction."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Asia Africa Intelligence Wire, September 27, 2003, Suzan Pillay, "A Writer's Yen for Exotic Adventures."
Asian Review of Books, October 1, 2004, Jane Ram, review of The Palace of Heavenly Pleasure.
Booklist, December 1, 2004, Margaret Flanagan, review of The Palace of Heavenly Pleasure, p. 638.
Library Journal, November 15, 2004, Kathy Piehl, review of The Palace of Heavenly Pleasure, p. 53.
Publishers Weekly, January 3, 2005, review of The Palace of Heavenly Pleasure, p. 37.
China-Britain Business Review Online, http://www.cbbc.org/ (May 17, 2005), review of The Palace of Heavenly Pleasure.
Quarterly Literary Review Singapore, http://www.qlrs.com/ (May 17, 2005), Felix Cheong, "China as Full-Time Occupation" (interview).