A light, lovely, earnest ""autobiographical fiction"" by an eminent Chinese woman writer (The Field of Life and Death, Tales of Hulan River) who died tragically at age 30, presenting her experiences in Harbin between 1932-1934. Published in China in 1936 and now translated into a foreign language for the first time, this is the author's least known work, but it's full of airy charm. Frothily, anecdotally, it takes us through prewar Harbin. as 22-year-old Xiao Hong and her lover, Langhua, eat black khleb (Russian bread) and very little else for days on end, form a Drama Troupe, publish stories and essays, and tutor pupils in both the martial arts and the Chinese Classics in order to pull in a few extra yen. Xiao Hong observes, rarely complains, accepts hardship, and treats life as a matter-of-fact adventure, weathering potential infidelities on the part of her mate (there was the lovely, rich Wang Lin from next door, and the beautiful, rich Miss Cheng from Shanghai, not to mention Miss Minzi, Xiao Hong's predecessor, who mended the coat Langhua still wears--he shows our stoical narrator the very peach-colored threads from Miss Minzi's needle). Finally, though, things grow too hot in Harbin--Japanese policemen loom from every doorway--and so Xiao Hong and Langhua give away his ceremonial sword and quit the stimulating international city on the River for points south. Elegant, whimsical, and surprisingly easy to read (translation is excellent), this slim volume details the thoughts of a woman and the history of a period, as well as all the small moments that make up a life. A classic of contemporary Chinese literature, and quite worthwhile.