The historian Jonathan Spence is one of my literary heroes, not least because he has done more than any historian of the post-war era to restore history to its proper place as a literary art.

I will never forget the excitement of reading The Memory Palace of Matteo Ricci for the first time, not only because of its stylistic elegance and the utter unexpectedness of the material but also because it was published at a time when ‘history’ had all but buried itself under the dreary dust of ‘theory’ and ‘social science’. In Jonathan Spence’s hands the past came alive as it very rarely does: few novelists are his equal in creating compelling narratives and in the depiction of character; few historians possess so wide a range of scholarship and so masterful a command of the archive.

Of course Jonathan Spence is also one of the world’s great authorities on the period in which River of Smoke is set: his Search for Modern China touches upon it, and his God’s Chinese Son is one of the authoritative works on 19th century China.

For all these reasons, my event with Jonathan Spence, at the Asia Society in New York (on the 3rd of October) was a truly memorable occasion for me. I was deeply moved by by his warmth and by the generosity of his responses to River of Smoke. Here is a link to a video of the event.



I really had never thought that my work would be welcomed

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