'Stories are the only thing that defy death. Stories are truth. I hereby give you mine...' Peking, 1944: Sir Edmund Backhouse is a man of many parts. A polyglot scholar. An effete homosexual. A genius of perversity, a forger, arms salesman, occasional spy and fantasist. Also, if he is to be believed, the onetime lover of the redoubtable Empress Dowager of China, a woman many decades his senior. In his declining years, tended by his friend, Dr Hoeppli, he writes his memoir - 'a wild tale', as he calls it, 'far-fetched and fantastical'- of his affair with the Dowager Empress. Beijing, 2014: Linnie is an Australian woman of uncertain provenance struggling to make a living in Beijing. A Sinophile, a translator of film subtitles, the author of an unpublished novel about Backhouse called The Empress Lover. One day, she receives an intriguingly old-fashioned and formal invitation from a Professor H, an invitation that promises to reveal long hidden secrets of her family...And so two worlds collide. An enchantingly slippery, sinuous, playful - and ultimately very moving - novel of love, loss, identity and history from one of Australia's finest novelists.