Love in a Fallen City – Eileen Chang
July 11, 2010 § 15 Comments
This post was due almost 2 weeks ago, but time has been a devil. For our Asian Book Group, Claire chose Love in a Fallen City by Eileen Chang, making it the second of 3 Chinese books that we are going to read this year. Before this, I’ve only heard of her other book, Lust, Caution, and that only because of the movie (which I haven’t watched..). When I first started reading the book, already Mee and Claire were gushing about how much they love the book, in the emails we exchanged. I was a little less impressed, but then again, that was just after reading the first few stories.
I figure her stories are the kind that have to be left to simmer. Take Jasmine Tea for example. When I first read this short story, I was left a little unnerved and confused about the direction the story took. I couldn’t understand what was the whole point of the story. But now, almost 3 weeks later, picking the book up and going through the story again, little snippets of it made me go, “Oh wait, I know that feeling.” It’s a story about a boy looking for love in his own mind, and this leads to some twisted feelings and actions that don’t seem justified no matter how you look at it, and yet it all just seems to fall into place exactly how it was meant to be.
In this collection of 4 novellas and 2 short stories, only The Golden Cangue was translated by Chang herself, the rest being translated by Karen Kingsbury. I’m not sure if it’s because the translation was done by a Chinese, or if it’s purely the language itself, but I definitely started to see some of the beautiful prose that others were raving about. Like this:
In old people’s memory the moon of thirty years ago was gay, larger, rounder and whiter than the moon now. But looked back on after thirty years on a rough road, the best of moons is apt to be tinged with sadness.
Then again, it could be just my infatuation with the moon, but I felt that this brought out all the romance and atmosphere needed to suck me into the story.
My favourite was the short story Sealed Off. The way the story started off was like watching an artist at his canvas, starting first with this colour, then another, then yet another, adding different elements and layers onto that once blank canvas, creating a story with every stroke of the brush. The story takes place within only a short period of time, zooming in on a chance encounter between two people as the city comes to a standstill. But the impact that Chang managed to create hit me quite hard. The story was both beautiful and sad at the same time. Though not your usual kind of beautiful, not your usual kind of sad.
I think in a way, that’s what sums up the collection. It’s a book of love stories that are not about the usual kind of love. It’s not about falling in love, or falling out of love. It’s not even about love as we know it. The kind of sadness that comes out of these stories almost make you want to pity the characters, but it never really reaches that level where pity comes naturally. It’s almost sad, almost love, almost devastating. But not quite. Which, I think, makes her such a unique voice.
* Note: Our next book is my choice, Yukio Mishima’s Confessions of a Mask. Join us end of September if you will.