Friday, August 10, 2018

Lord of Formosa: A Novel by Joyce Bergvelt

Lord of Formosa: A Novel. Joyce Bergvelt. Camphor Press, Ltd. April 2018. 480 pp. ISBN#: 9781788691390.

In 1624 the island of Formosa belongs to the Dutch as a valuable fortress and trading post.  The mainland, China, is fraught with tension and war as the Manchus battle the Ming dynasty and are slowly but certainly winning.  Ming supporters are fleeing south and actually leaving for Formosa and other islands in the vicinity.  Meanwhile Koxinga is the son of a powerful Ming Admiral who is willing to fight the Manchus to the bitter end.  However, that is not the way history is to unfold.

Koxinga hears a prophecy when he is very young that he will be the Lord of Formosa but also that he will have to pay an immense price for that glorious role.  That fuels his evolution as a thinker, soldier, and trader, roles that are fostered by his father’s illustrious training and respected role throughout China.  Meanwhile, the Dutch are in charge of Formosa but their strength is slowly being drained by the divisions in their own leadership.  Many are good at trade but their poor treatment of the Chinese and distrust of fellow Dutch leaders will prove to be their undoing.  When one makes that statement in a sentence, it may strike the reader as benign.  But the reality is far from benign; literally thousands of deaths will follow as the Dutch send leader after leader to Formosa while Koxinga is planning a massive sea and land battle.  The incremental victory of the Chinese on the island is fascinating reading. 

Koxinga, during these protracted developments, is suffering from what was probably syphilis.  He attempts to get a Dutch physician to heal him but that doesn’t work out so well.  Instead, his volatile temper is increasing to the point where his own supporters are afraid to be around him.  His behavior in the finale of this novel is ruthlessly brutal.  The Dutch men and women will lose numerous leaders and family members, but history is replete with such losses.  Koxinga is honored to this day as an incomparable leader who made Formosa the successful and safe place it was and remains to the present.

For those who love Chinese history, Lord of Formosa is a powerful read and one which this reviewer highly recommends!

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