After I finished The Rice Sprout Song last week, I moved on to Eileen Chang’s Love in a Fallen City (New York Review Books, 2006), a collection of short stories and novellas that take place in Shanghai and Hong Kong in the 1930s and early 1940s.
I usually try to read a book before seeing the movie, but in this case, I’d already seen Red Rose, White Rose (directed by Stanley Kwan), one of the novellas in this collection. But that was 15 years ago. So when I read this novella, it almost felt like it was the first time I’d encountered the story. Plus, when I watched Red Rose, White Rose in Shanghai all those years ago, the film didn’t include English subtitles and my ability to read Chinese wasn’t the greatest. So I only understood part of the movie.
Of all the stories in this collection, my favorites are Love in a Fallen City and Red Rose, White Rose, although I enjoyed all of the stories. Most portray modern Chinese women who are caught between the old ways of the Qing dynasty and their new independence during the early days of the Republic. It’s interesting to me because I see parallels between the issues Chinese women faced back in the 1930s and those they face now (after decades of choosing to marry based on politics).
In the novella, Love in a Fallen City, Liusu is a young, divorced Shanghai woman who moves back home. When she meets Liuyuan, an overseas Chinese playboy who is introduced to another girl in her family, a strong attraction develops between the two. Still, Liusu isn’t sure if Liuyuan is just leading her on or if he really loves her. Nonetheless, Liusu cautiously tests the water, even following Liuyuan to Hong Kong and leaving her family.
Red Rose, White Rose is also a love story that takes place in 1930s Shanghai. Chenpao is a young engineer who studies and works in the UK before returning to Shanghai. On his return, he boards with another friend and his wife who also studied in England. Jiaorui is the wife and soon she and Chenpao start an affair while Jiaorui’s husband travels abroad. When Chenpao sees that he’s in over his head, he breaks things off and decides to reform and marry a good Chinese woman. He finds a wife from the countryside. The more she tries to be the perfect wife, the more Chenpao becomes repulsed and reverts to his old cavorting ways. Years later, a chance encounter with Jiaorui stirs Chenpao in ways he never dreamed.
The other stories are a bit similar, but each with its own identity and twist. Now that I’ve finished this book, it’s time to watch the film Red Rose, White Rose again and check out the movie version of Love in a Fallen City.