The Poison of Polygamy: A Social Novel

December 8, 2020
The Poison of Polygamy: A Social Novel

Serialised in 1909-1910, The Poison of Polygamy is a rare gem ofAustralian literature. The first novel of the Chinese-Australianexperience, it follows the fortunes of a young man who leaves hiswife behind in southern China to seek his fortunes in the Victoriangoldfields. In a rollercoaster tale of blackmail, murder andbetrayal, he encounters all manner of perils, from storms at sea tocollapsing gold mines and even a thylacine attack in the Victorianbush.As Australia's and possibly the West's earliestChinese-language novel, The Poison of Polygamy reveals the humanface of migration between Qing China and colonial Australia, andreflects important Chinese social and political developments of thetime. Historical investigation has revealed that many charactersand incidents in the story were based on real people and events. Inthis bilingual edition, the original Chinese text is presentedalongside a sensitive and transparent translation into English,complete with illuminating footnotes. Translator's and historians'introductions discuss the linguistic, cultural and historicalcontext of the novel, and establish its unique significance inAustralia's literary and social history.'The discovery of ThePoison of Polygamy and its publication in this highly informativebilingual edition is a double happiness. It gives readers ofliterature a highly entertaining new novel, replete with drama,emotion and intrigue. At the same time it documents ChineseAustralian life in a key period of history, through a story toldwith passion and insight by a Chinese writer for Chinese readers.The eloquent translation by Ely Finch and the generous commentaryby the translator and his colleagues now make this rich materialavailable in English. The Poison of Polygamy is a valuable additionto Australian literature and to a more appreciative understandingof the Chinese contribution to Australian society over many years.'— Nicholas Jose