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Love in a Fallen City (New York Review Books…
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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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3191034,767 (3.84)30
Member:Nicholae
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
Rating:
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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This is a collection of short works of fiction, ranging from 15 to 70 pages in length. The setting is the China of Chang’s youth and young adulthood, 1930-1945. The connecting thread is that they all deal with love – enduring, passionate, unrequited – and longing, and pit the traditional values of Chinese culture (honoring family, filial devotion) against the increasing influence from the West to “modernize.” The stories are fraught with sexual tension, moral ambiguity, and pangs of conscience. While they are distinctly Chinese stories, they are universal in their themes.

I particularly liked the title story, set in Shanghai and Hong Kong just before (and during) the Japanese attack in 1941, and Red Rose, White Rose, contrasting one man’s divided loyalties between his “spotless wife” (white rose) and his “passionate mistress” (red rose).

Chang is one of the most well-known and celebrated authors in modern China. Born in 1920 to an aristocratic family in Shanghai she studied literature at the Univ of Hong Kong until 1941, when the Japanese attack on that city forced her to return to Shanghai. Eventually she immigrated to the United States in 1952, where she held various posts as writer-in-residence. In 1969 she obtained a more permanent position as a researcher at Berkeley. Despite a resurgence of interest in her work beginning in the 1970s in Taiwan and Hong Kong (and eventually moving to mainland China), she became ever more reclusive. She was found dead in her apartment in 1995.

The edition I read is translated by Karen S Kingsbury and published by New York Review Books. ( )
  BookConcierge | Jan 13, 2016 |
Although Chang carried on writing long after her move to the US, it's these cynical, pessimistic love stories from the thirties and early forties that she's best known for. The combination of the narrator's unromantic view of human nature with languid tropical backgrounds in the prosperous suburbs of Shanghai and Hong Kong makes you think of Somerset Maugham, but Chang complicates that mix further by bringing in her own experience of growing up in an upper-class Chinese family torn between extreme conservatism and the fashion for adopting Western styles of behaviour, dress and ethics. Each of the stories in this collection takes characters exposed to these forces in different combinations and ratios, and we get to see young people making a mess of their lives (and others) irrespective of whether it's in pursuit of money, love, pleasure, or career. Beautifully done, and there's always a strong sense that the European cocktail-cabinet culture is jut as doomed as the lifestyle of the wealthy families where the mother-in-law squelches the least sign of independence from any of her sons' wives. But you also get the feeling that Chang would be pretty good at squelching upstarts herself! ( )
2 vote thorold | Dec 23, 2015 |
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 |
Showing 1-5 of 10 (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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