Set on the eve of the Rape of Nanjing—when Japanese troops invaded the historic capital city, massacred hundreds of thousands, and committed thousands of rapes—Nanjing 1937 is a tender and humorous story of an impossible love and a lively, detailed historical portrait of a culture on the verge of rupture.
Set on the eve of the Rape of Nanjing—when Japanese troops invaded the historic capital city, massacred hundreds of thousands, and committed thousands of rapes—Nanjing 1937 is a tender and humorous story of an impossible love and a lively, detailed historical portrait of a culture on the verge of rupture.The novel centers on the life of Ding Wenyu, a privileged, womanizing, narcissistic professor of languages, and traces the course of the affair that transforms him from outlandish rake to devoted lover. Throughout the story, Ding's often comically unabashed "romantic offensive" toward a much younger woman, Ren Yuyuan (with whom he brazenly falls in love on the day of her wedding to another man), echoes the acts of war unfolding around him as the Japanese close in, even as he himself remains largely oblivious to the coming onslaught.Known for his stylistic innovation, Ye Zhaoyan creates tragic and endearing characters while vividly capturing the daily life of 1930s wartime China. "I find myself unable to truly understand that history that historians call history," Ye has observed. "All I see are shattered pieces and broken fragments, and a handful of melancholic stories destined to come to naught, all quietly playing out upon the grand stage of history." This historiography of despair achieved its most poignant expression in 1996 with the Chinese publication of Nanjing 1937: A Love Story, which immediately became a bestseller, hailed by critics as a masterpiece of contemporary Chinese literature.Now translated into English for the first time, informed by meticulous historical research and tinged with the author's unique brand of humor, Nanjing 1937: A Love Story is a work of fiction unlike any ever seen. This epic story of a man and a woman who discover love in a time of fear and uncertainty announces the arrival of major voice on the international literary scene.
Ye Zhaoyan is one of the most popular and prolific writers in the People's Republic of China. He lives in Nanjing.Michael Berry is a doctoral candidate in modern Chinese literature at Columbia University and is the translator of Wild Kids: Two Novels About Growing Up by Chang Ta-chun (Columbia, 2000) and the forthcoming novel To Live by Yu Hua.
Ye's novel does succeed in painting an evocative picture of China's capital on the eve of the Japanese onslaught. The reimagining of life in Republican China has been a major concern in contemporary Chinese fiction, and to this body of work Nanjing 1937 is a distinctive addition.Ye Zhaoyan's story has the sweep of a great saga. Nanjing 1937 is a fascinating glimpse into Chinese culture and society.Nanjing1937 is an interliterary feast, with significant motifs of the great wartime novelists Qian Zhongshu, Eileen Chang, and Ba Jin, plus Doctorow-like cameos of real 1930's Chinese celebrities. Berry renders the novel in a bright American idiom and provides expert glosses for all the historical figures in an index.Ye Zhaoyan has managed to capture and communicate a broad spectrum of passionate emotions that transcend the cultural divide between East and West.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.Ye paints a rich tableau of prewar Chinese politics and social mores. The contrast between the advance of the Japanese and Ding's slow seduction of Ren is both poignant and deliciously ironic.Carolyn See:For fans of Chinese literature and the myth of Chinese glamour, "Nanjing 1937" is a treasure.