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Love in a Fallen City (New York Review Books…

Love in a Fallen City (New York Review Books Classics) (original 1943; edition 2006)

by Eileen Chang, Karen S. Kingsbury (Translator)

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303836,938 (3.84)28
Title:Love in a Fallen City (New York Review Books Classics)
Authors:Eileen Chang
Other authors:Karen S. Kingsbury (Translator)
Info:NYRB Classics (2006), Paperback, 320 pages
Collections:Your library, To read, Boxed Books
Tags:fiction, women, 20th century, translation, nyrb, 21st century, 2000s, 1980s, china

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Love in a Fallen City by Eileen Chang (1943)



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I put this book on my Paperbackswap wishlist ages ago (Probably from an ad in the New York Review of Books). I received it just before my train trip to Virginia, and it seemed like a good travel book, so I brought it along and ended up reading the whole thing on the outbound train. I was right -- it was a good travel book. A collection of short stories taking place in pre-WWII China & Hong Kong, it seemed a backward trip in time, as they were arranged with the most modern storyline first, each following story seeming to progress more into traditional families and characters, though I would guess all took place within a decade or two of each other in time. Although occasionally the narrators were male, the sum effect was a grim picture of the few options open to women in the social roles at the time. One notable exception was the story of a male college student, trapped between the contradictions of his high social class, his shame at his parents' opium addiction, and the abuse suffered at the hands of his father. But even this misery was the result of his mother's entrapment in a loveless marriage, and his tumultuous feelings had disastrous consequences for a female classmate, so perhaps it was the exception that proves the rule. Masterfully written and stereotype-defying, it would be a worthy read for any lover of literature. ( )
  greeniezona | Sep 20, 2014 |
4.5/5In China, as elsewhere, the constraints imposed by the traditional moral code were originally constructed for the benefit of women: they made beautiful women even harder to obtain, so their value rose, and ugly women were spared the prospect of never-ending humiliation. Women nowadays don't have this kind of protective buffer, especially not mixed-blood girls, whose status is entirely undefined.I love Pearl S. Buck, I really do, but the way her written legacy interfered with that of Eileen Chang's is a tragedy. Readers introduced through the Nobel Prize Winner to China would expect exacting honor, high drama, sultry romance, any other conjunction of the profligating misnomer known as the 'East'; even more absurd a concept when said readers are US bound and must look to the west for their fill of fiction. They would not have been satisfied with these short and biting works, bred on an entirely different culture with strains more akin to Fitzgerald and O'Connor than anything the historical fiction trends of the States could conjure up. And so we left yet another author to their own devices, till when dead and gone we could sift through and lift up their works in as fitting a posthumous manner as we please.

A bitter triumph both here and across the sea, for as an expatriate Chang was unjustly ignored, the only alternative to a home country banning. You'll find very little of such unsavory politickings here, an authorial choice that let her works alone before the government shifted and her wealthy background combined with lack of polemical interests chased her from Shanghai to Hong Kong and finally to LA to die alone in an apartment within my lifetime. It's a flavor of acrid living that she captured on paper even in her youthful twenties, as these stories are happiness of the trained sort, gilded robes and bound feet reminiscent of ruffled skirts and excised ribs in the land of Christians and their Boxer Rebellion. True, Shanghai is not Paris or London, Berlin or New York, but you don't need white people to play out the conflicts of modern life on a theme of hope and decadence, luxurious backdrops galore to the young choking on the old, women flying too far to forget the taste when time comes for men to clip their wings.

There's beauty, though, unfamiliar enough for me to spend a moment unraveling the colors and densities, landscapes heated to a different symphony of flora and fauna, living spaces enclosed within collections of wood and stone whose recognition comes only through many a visit to the houses of my friends, here in the Bay Area where the high school classes are 18% 'Caucasian' and the vernacular of ABC (American Born Chinese), banana (yellow on the out, white on the in), and egg (you get the picture) were the norm on campus grounds. This mix and meld of upbringing made me wish once to follow said friends on one of their summer retreats to kith and kin, a wish revitalized by what I knew within these pages and the far more that I didn't. I know my poor head for languages too well to ever hope to grasp the five thousand plus characters of the Chinese language, but the excursion would provide sorely needed grounding of contextual reality for my abstract intake, if nothing else. That, and reading The Story of the Stone, whose pervasive influence apparent even in this literature of the 20th century has shoved it forward a few hundred in the shelves.The white Liang mansion was melting viscously into the white mist, leaving only the greenish gleam of the lamplight shining through square after square of the green windowpanes, like ice cubes in peppermint schnapps. When the fog thickened, the ice cubes dissolved, and the lights went out.Keep an eye on that NYRB cover, Ah Xian's China, China: Bust 34 in profile. It conveys the book better than I ever could. ( )
2 vote Korrick | Apr 29, 2014 |
Another blogger called Eileen Chang’s stories “anti-love” stories, and I think that is an apt description. Eileen Chang, who wrote in the 1940s, captured relationships in her stories, and her perspective is unfailing bitter. These stories do not, for the most part, have happy endings, even when the man and the woman do get together. I loved the insights into Chinese culture, but that said, my favorite story of the collection (“Sealed Off”) was one that was more universal in setting, emotion, and culture.

More on my blog
1 vote rebeccareid | Jul 19, 2011 |
These short stories by Eileen Chang are very good for the most part; Chang obviously has an understanding of the format greater than many other authors. However, unlike other reviewers here, I find her prose a hindrance. Chang's style is distinctive, certainly, but it feels rather empty. This is especially true of her dialogue where her characters all seem to flit around issues instead of talking with any real substance. Perhaps Chang's writing merely reflects Chinese behaviour?

Even if it does I found reading these shorts frustrating. Chang's stories are very good but her way of writing left me thinking they were sadly insubstantial. ( )
  DRFP | Feb 13, 2011 |
Eileen Chang's Love in a Fallen City is a collection of elegant short stories about lives and loves in two fallen cities, Shanghai and Hong Kong. The major characters are all Chinese, but differences in their subcultural/linguistic/national backgrounds are often catalysts for contrast and conflict. Themes of anomie, isolation and decadence abound.

In all of the stories, Chang's narrative voice is distinctive, even in translation (which, speaking of, is very well done indeed). It's a sinuous voice that curls like a wisp of smoke around a tai-tai's slim black cigarette holder. Chang never overstates, never explains the obvious, and never relaxes into sentimentality or brutality -- although she certainly courts more danger with the latter than the former.

I recommend these stories very highly. ( )
1 vote mrtall | Aug 24, 2009 |
Showing 1-5 of 8 (next | show all)
Chang’s dramas are at heart practical ones, and they stand in an attitude caught between realism and abstraction. ... Or maybe this is just the product of writing inside an overtly determinist political history in which things must therefore seem to happen at the wrong time.
Money and the scramble to get it are at the center of many of our best novels, and this is nowhere truer than in the work of Jane Austen. The financial security that Austen's heroines are always chasing is so inextricably entangled with courtship, love and marriage that one can lose sight of the pound notes (not to mention the plantation slavery) behind the lilies, lace and wedding veils.

This is never the case with the world Eileen Chang presents in the tales that constitute "Love in a Fallen City." Think of her as Jane Austen with the gloves off.
added by dcozy | editJapan Times, David Cozy (Feb 25, 2007)
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Collects six tales of love, longing, and the shifting and endlessly treacherous shoals of family life.

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