Historical Fiction

A Hundred Suns – Karin Tanabe

30 March 2020
A Hundred Suns Book Cover A Hundred Suns
Karin Tanabe
St. Martin's Press
April 7, 2020

"A haunting, evocative tale that left me both richly satisfied and deeply unsettled – yet another Tanabe triumph. Captivating, suspenseful, and full of surprises." —Fiona Davis, national bestselling author of The Masterpiece An evocative historical novel set in 1930's Indochine, about the American wife of a Michelin heir who journeys to the French colony in the name of family fortune, and the glamorous, tumultuous world she finds herself in—and the truth she may be running from. On a humid afternoon in 1933, American Jessie Lesage steps off a boat from Paris and onto the shores of Vietnam. Accompanying her French husband Victor, an heir to the Michelin rubber fortune, she’s certain that their new life is full of promise, for while the rest of the world is sinking into economic depression, Indochine is gold for the Michelins. Jessie knows that their vast plantations near Saigon are the key to the family’s prosperity, and while they have been marred in scandal, she needs them to succeed for her husband’s sake—and to ensure that her trail of secrets stays hidden in the past. Jessie dives into the glamorous colonial world, where money is king and morals are brushed aside, and meets Marcelle de Fabry, a spellbinding French woman with a moneyed Indochinese lover, the silk tycoon Khoi Nguyen. Descending on Jessie’s world like a hurricane, Marcelle proves to be an exuberant guide to ex-pat life. But hidden beneath her vivacious exterior is a fierce desire to put the colony back in the hands of its people, starting with the Michelin plantations, fueled by a terrible wrong committed against her and Khoi’s loved ones in Paris. Yet it doesn’t take long for the sun-drenched days and champagne-soaked nights to catch up with Jessie. With an increasingly fractured mind, her affection for Indochine falters. And as a fiery political struggle builds around her, Jessie begins to wonder what’s real in a friendship that she suspects may be nothing but a house of cards. Motivated by love, driven by ambition, and seeking self-preservation at all costs, Jessie and Marcelle each toe the line between friend and foe, ethics and excess. Cast against the stylish backdrop of 1930s Indochine, in a time and place defined by contrasts and convictions, A Hundred Suns is historical fiction at its lush, suspenseful best.


A Hundred Suns is a probing story of avarice, power, revenge and colonial politics set in French Indochina in the 1930s. Jessie Lesage and her husband, heir to the Michelin business empire, Victor Michelin Lesage, arrive in Vietnam amidst a global recession to manage the Michelin rubber plantations and grow their fortune.

Karin Tanabe paints a vivid picture of the French colonial masters living a profuse lifestyle of opium, glamour and sex, while ordinary plantation ‘coolies’, work in dire conditions and live in poverty. The ordinary people dream of independence and communism starts to exert an influence as a means of change.

“The most important thing, taking precedence over everything else, is that the plantations continue to make money. If we don’t have profit, we can’t even feed our men. The second priority, which is equal and forever linked to the first, is to keep the communist element from rising up.”

Jessie knows she has to support her husband, so after a few years, they can return to Paris a success. She does, however, battle mental issues, some held in secret from her past, some new distressing episodes, and a lifestyle of pleasure and gossip makes exposure much more of a reality. Jessie meets another glamourous woman, Marcelle de Fabry, and their delicate relationship progresses on a fine line between friend and foe.

Marcelle is married to a French ex-pat, Arnaud, but has a closer relationship with her Indochinese lover, Khoi Nguyen whom she first met years previously in Paris. Marcelle has a quest to return Vietnam to independence and her first target is the Michelin rubber plantation business. With private investigators seeking evidence of wrongdoing, they uncover secrets they didn’t expect. The story is told from the perspectives of Jessie and Marcelle, both are influenced significantly by their past and both struggle with conflicting ambitions and previous obligations. The suspense is built with schemes and secrets being uncovered, although I did feel it unrealistic at times with some plot holes. The female characters provided a good variation in circumstances, although Marcelle did provide a more intriguing background that provided glimpses into the issues facing the region at the time.

In a time when Indochina’s indigenous people struggled with colonial rule and geared itself for a war of independence, the story embeds itself in the unrestrained immoral antics surrounding the aristocratic set and personal revenge. I wish the novel could have provided a more compelling thread in terms of the deeper political and social powder keg, which contributed to the outbreak of the Vietnam War twenty years later.

I had an expectation starting this historical fiction novel that wasn’t fully realised but I still felt it was a well-written novel with mystery and suspense, and may resonate better with other readers. I would like to thank St Martin’s Press and NetGalley for providing me with an ARC copy in return for an honest review.

Peter Donnelly

Founder of The Reading Desk, supporting readers, authors, publishers and book industry. Top Reviewer on Amazon, Goodreads, and NetGalley peter@thereadingdesk.com

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