The Majesties by Tiffany Tsao
Published by Atria Books
Publication date: January 21, 2020
Genres: Contemporary, Cultural, Fiction, Literary
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Sometimes novels that begin with a bang end with a fizzle. That’s not the case with The Majesties, which opens with Gwen, the main narrator, lying in a coma. After being poisoned by her sister, Estella, along with their entire extended family and closest friends. At a lavish banquet honoring their grandfather. Gwen is the only survivor; even Estella is dead. Now, as Gwen’s consciousness flickers she travels back to the past to see if she can find the moment that led Estella to commit mass murder.
The Sulinados’ fortune began as a family synthetic textile company that, through the decades, became a conglomerate with holdings in natural resources, manufacturing, and fine fabric production. As Chinese living in Indonesia they overcame prejudice and discrimination to become one of the wealthiest families in Southeast Asia. For Estella and Gwen this meant living without financial boundaries—the most expensive boarding schools, exotic vacations, top-tier universities, all leading to prestigious positions within one of the family companies. It also led to a certain degree of isolation that made their sisterly bond even stronger.
For Estella, the path diverged when she met the son of another mega-rich Chinese-Indonesian family. Being part of the Sulinado family meant duty comes first so marriage was a foregone conclusion. Once done, the son showed himself to be rotten fruit. So spoiled, he had no motivation in life other than his own desires. Estella is forced to give up not only college, but working because he wants her attending to him all the time. He also despised Gwen and the sisters’ close relationship was lost. Even when his abusive behavior was revealed, their parents would not allow any discussion of divorce because of the damage it could do to their social and business relationships. Only after he died was she free to reclaim herself.
Author Tiffany Tsao makes The Majesties compelling reading by blending the extravagant lifestyle of the uber-wealthy (ala Crazy Rich Asians) with the very unpalatable realities that often lie beneath the tonnage of such money. The surreal nature of the Sulinados’ lives belies the darker secrets each carries and which are deliberately overlooked by the family. Tsao goes even further with this theme. Gwen uses her lifelong love of insects to start a jewelry company that turns creatures like butterflies, into captive, but living wearable art. These fantastical creations feel emblematic of the novel itself—beautiful women kept alive in a rarified atmosphere that is ultimately fatal.
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