Last week when I reviewed Eileen Chang’s The Fall of the Pagoda, I wrote I would next read its sequel, The Book of Change (Hong Kong University Press, 2010).
While The Fall of the Pagoda and The Book of Change are autobiographical novels and physically stand alone, I would recommend reading them both to get a feel for the Shanghai where Chang grew up (Pagoda) and for the Hong Kong she experienced during the onset and early days of Japanese occupation (The Book of Change).
I enjoyed The Book of Change more than Pagoda, and not just because the former was set mainly in Hong Kong. Much of Chang’s work consists of the same stories, written and re-written over many decades. As I mentioned last week, Pagoda reminds me of The Sing-Song Girls of Shanghai, a slow moving novel Chang translated into English (and first from the Wu dialect into standard Chinese).
The Book of Change, on the other hand, shows where Chang found her ideas for her dramatic novellas, Love in a Fallen City and Lust, Caution.
From the double-gun daylight assassination of Chang’s uncle in Shanghai to the close student relationships at Hong Kong University, Chang found rich material for both The Book of Change and Lust, Caution.
One of my favorite parts of The Book of Change involves Chang’s mother’s extended stay at the Repulse Bay Hotel and later imprisonment at the Hong Kong police headquarters. Chang also shows how cruel and desperate people can get when faced with starvation during war.
At the end of the novel, Chang’s main character leaves Hong Kong University without graduating to return to war stricken Shanghai. About her return, she writes:
She did not come back rich and influential, just older and more sure of herself, which was not much except that everything counted more here because it was home.
Chang would go on to become one of the most prolific writers in 1940s Shanghai. She returned to Hong Kong for a few years in the early 50s, then immigrated to the US.
Eileen Chang died a lonely unknown in California 16 years ago.