I first learned of Nanjing 1937: A Love Story (Anchor, 2004) by Ye Zhaoyan on novelist Jennifer Cody Epstein’s uber-addicting blog, Sheepish Fashionista. Her novel, The Painter from Shanghai (W.W. Norton, 2008) is one of my favorite books about China. So when she claimed on her blog that Nanjing 1937 is one of her favorite books about China, I was game.
And that’s what I read last week.
Almost from the opening pages, I wondered where in the world I’d been all these years.
Sure I knew about the backdrop of the novel: Nanjing + 1937 = bad, bad news. Some of the worst in modern history.
But Ye writes about the events leading to the horrors at the end of 1937. I shivered with delight at the way Ye poked fun at the excesses of the Nationalist government (like when the Japanese were edging into China and Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek left Nanjing for vacation to rest up from his exhausting social engagements).
The slow reaction of the Nationalist government paralleled the obtuseness of Ye’s protagonist Ding Wenyu and his obsessive love for Ren Yuyuan, a married woman young enough to be Ding’s daughter.
So much has been written about the glamor and endless parties of 1930s Shanghai, but it seems like most books about Nanjing during this time focus on the tragic events that take place right as Nanjing 1937 ends.
Ye’s novel depicts in great detail the parties, the banquets, the corruption, and the naivete of the people in charge in Nanjing. Even at the end, the officer in charge cuts off his nose to spite his face (and that of the remaining Nanjing populace).
And the rest, as we say, is history.