A best-selling, autobiographical depiction of class privilege, bad romance, and political intrigue during World War II in China.
Now available in English for the first time, Eileen Chang’s dark romance opens with Julie, living at a convent school in Hong Kong on the eve of the Japanese invasion. Her mother, Rachel, long divorced from Julie’s opium-addict father, saunters around the world with various lovers. Recollections of Julie’s horrifying but privileged childhood in Shanghai clash with a flamboyant, sometimes incestuous cast of relations that crowd her life. Eventually, back in Shanghai, she meets the magnetic Chih-yung, a traitor who collaborates with the Japanese puppet regime. Soon they’re in the throes of an impassioned love affair that swings back and forth between ardor and anxiety, secrecy and ruin. Like Julie’s relationship with her mother, her marriage to Chih-yung is marked by long stretches of separation interspersed with unexpected little reunions. Chang’s emotionally fraught, bitterly humorous novel holds a fractured mirror directly in front of her own heart.
Originally completed in 1976 and appearing in English for the first time, this intricate novel follows a young Chinese woman, known as Julie, who comes of age during World War II. The book opens before the Japanese invasion of British Hong Kong, where Julie attends private boarding school. These scenes are among the book's most striking, as the students provide a fascinating cross-section of different lifestyles as informed by various backgrounds, from the rural provinces of the mainland to cosmopolitan aristocracy. During this time, Julie's divorced mother, Rachel, first passes through, on her way, as she always is, to some other place with some other man. Once the Japanese attack, Julie leaves school and settles in Shanghai with her father's sister, Judy, known as "Third Aunt." Here, Julie discovers both writing and love, beginning a long affair with a renowned author and finding her voice in her stories. The translation is elegant, though the expansive cast there's an eight-page character index at the back of the book may require some sorting out on the reader's part (at one point Judy describes a family relation to Julie as "Brother Hsu's mother was Third Concubine's servant girl"). Nevertheless, the novel provides an intimate glimpse into an alluring world, rife with vivid detail and characters.