Celebrated Nanjing novelist Ye Zhaoyan makes his US debut with a romance set against the backdrop of the 1937 Japanese invasion of China.
Spoiled, narcissistic playboy Ding Wenyu, the only child of a distinguished government family in Nanjing, teaches a few desultory classes at the National University but spends most of his time seducing other men’s wives (on his good days) or amusing himself in the city’s brothels (when luck is short). His wife, the daughter of a wealthy industrialist, puts up with his philandering largely because she is as bored with him as he is with her and wants to see as little of him as possible. On New Year’s Day 1937, however, an unprecedented event occurs: Wenyu falls in love. Unfortunately, the woman who bowls him over at a society wedding is the bride—and that’s only the first of many problems. Ren Yuyuan is a good 20 years younger than Wenyu, and he had an affair with her sister when Yuyuan was literally a babe in arms. Her new husband, Yu Keran, is a fighter pilot in the Chinese air force, soon called to active duty when the Japanese invade the Chinese mainland and advance on Nanjing. Shaken by the sudden onset of war, Wenyu is nevertheless unable to overcome his obsession with Yuyuan, sending her daily love letters and trying unsuccessfully to win her over while her husband is away. Yuyuan resists until she learns that Keran has been killed in a midair explosion. Then she gives in to Wenyu’s advances just as the Japanese are encircling the city gates. Everyone who can is fleeing for their lives, but Yuyuan works for a staff officer in Nanjing and refuses to abandon her post—so Wenyu stays on as well, to the bitter end.
A moving and fascinating account of tragic love, narrated with a minimum of sentimentality and a good sense of history well captured in the fluid, unobtrusive translation.