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Half a Lifelong Romance
Cover of Half a Lifelong Romance
Half a Lifelong Romance
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Shanghai, 1930s. Shen Shijun, a young engineer, has fallen in love with his colleague, the beautiful Gu Manzhen. He is determined to resist his family’s efforts to match him with his wealthy cousin so that he can marry her. But dark circumstances—a lustful brother-in-law, a treacherous sister, a family secret—force the two young lovers apart.
As Manzhen and Shijun go on their separate paths, they lose track of one another, and their lives become filled with feints and schemes, missed connections and tragic misunderstandings. At every turn, societal expectations seem to thwart their prospects for happiness. Still, Manzhen and Shijun dare to hold out hope—however slim—that they might one day meet again. A glamorous, wrenching tale set against the glittering backdrop of an extraordinary city, Half a Lifelong Romance is a beloved classic from one of the essential writers of twentieth-century China.
Shanghai, 1930s. Shen Shijun, a young engineer, has fallen in love with his colleague, the beautiful Gu Manzhen. He is determined to resist his family’s efforts to match him with his wealthy cousin so that he can marry her. But dark circumstances—a lustful brother-in-law, a treacherous sister, a family secret—force the two young lovers apart.
As Manzhen and Shijun go on their separate paths, they lose track of one another, and their lives become filled with feints and schemes, missed connections and tragic misunderstandings. At every turn, societal expectations seem to thwart their prospects for happiness. Still, Manzhen and Shijun dare to hold out hope—however slim—that they might one day meet again. A glamorous, wrenching tale set against the glittering backdrop of an extraordinary city, Half a Lifelong Romance is a beloved classic from one of the essential writers of twentieth-century China.
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Excerpts-
  • Chapter One 1

    He and Manzhen had met . . . a long time ago. Working it out, he realized it had been fourteen years since then. Quite a shock! It made him feel, suddenly, very old.

    Time does fly for the ­middle-­aged: a decade whips by in the blink of an eye, a flick of the fingertips. When you’re still young, even three or four years, maybe five, can seem an entire lifetime. That’s all they’d had, from meeting to parting—just a few years together. But in that brief span, they’d had a full measure: all the joy and the sorrow that comes with (as the old saying has it) “birth, old age, illness, death.”

    She’d asked him, back then, when he’d first started liking her. “The moment I first saw you,” he’d replied, of course. His feelings were running so high then, he’d have believed anything. He was certain he was not lying. But in fact, the moment when he first saw her was not all that clear in his mind.

    It was Shuhui, his best friend from engineering college, who met her first. Shuhui, who’d graduated before him and found work in a factory office, had then found him a position, as a trainee, in the same factory. Manzhen worked in that office, at a desk next to Shuhui’s, so he must have passed her several times on his way to see Shuhui, but nothing stuck in his mind. Probably because he was fresh out of college, shy around girls, too awkward to take a good look.

    He was on his way to becoming a fully trained engineer, which meant he was on the shop floor all day long, with the manual workers; as soon as he’d grasped one thing, he was sent off to learn another. The work was hard, but the experience invaluable. It paid almost nothing, but fortunately his family wasn’t relying on him. They lived in another city, and he was boarding with Shuhui’s family in Shanghai.

    That was the first time Shijun had spent New Year’s away from home. He’d never enjoyed the holiday; something unpleasant always happened then, in his family. They’d wait for his father to come home and lead the ceremony, then have a family meal. But his father would always be late, held back by this or the other, over at the concubine’s place. His mother did not usually argue about this, but at New Year’s she had to say something: “A family should act like a family.” The master of the house was supposed to be at home, leading the proceedings, if only for the ancestors’ sake.

    The problem was that festivities were being held at the other place too. This concubine had been with his father for many years. She’d borne him several children, and her house was livelier, filled with family: it had become his father’s chief residence. He rarely went back to his first wife’s home. When he did, he was received like a visiting dignitary, most of the time. But maybe because the holiday made her feel her lot in life, Shijun’s mother just had to clash with her husband at New Year’s. A woman her age, and there she’d be, in tears. It had been that way every year since Shijun was little. Hence his gladness at being somewhere other than at home, well away from all that unpleasantness.

    And yet, when it came time to bid the old year adieu, with everyone gathering at dusk for the holiday meal while random bursts of firecracker noise filled the streets, he still felt the weight of worries he couldn’t quite figure out.

    He joined Shuhui’s family for the New Year’s Eve dinner, then invited his friend to see a film with him. The cinema ran a late show during the holiday...
About the Author-
  • Eileen Chang (1920-1995), a novelist, essayist, and screenwriter, was born into an elite family in Shanghai. In 1941, while the city was under Japanese occupation, she began to publish the stories and essays that established her reputation in the literary world. She left China in 1952 to escape the influence of the Communist party, settling in the United States in 1955. She continued to write novels, stories, essays, and screenplays for Hong Kong films. In the 1970s, her works became immensely popular throughout the Chinese-speaking world. Despite her growing fame, Chang grew more and more reclusive, and was found dead in her Los Angeles apartment in 1995. Her works continue to be translated into English. A film adaptation of her novella Lust, Caution, directed by Ang Lee, was released in 2007.
    Karen S. Kingsbury taught and studied in Sichuan and Taiwan for nearly two decades, and is currently Professor of International Studies at Chatham University, where she teaches East Asian studies and world literature. She lives near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Reviews-
  • Kirkus

    January 1, 2016
    Two star-crossed lovers navigate romantic confusion, familial interference, and looming war in this novel, set in China in the 1930s and '40s. Shen Shijun and Gu Manzhen, the central characters of this novel by Chang (1920-1995), are both eminently admirable figures: hardworking, kind to their friends, and dedicated to their families. That they slowly realize their love for one another isn't much of a surprise since their slow-burning recognition occupies much of the book's first half. Circumstances soon force them to part, and the interference of Manzhen's family turns what could have been a brief separation into one that lasts for years. Translator Kingsbury's introduction discusses the book's evolution and the circumstances of its publication, which makes for a compelling story on its own. The original version was published in the early 1950s, then substantially revised, with a political plotline excised for a 1969 edition. Though this is, according to Kingsbury's telling, Chang's "most popular novel," this edition marks its first English translation. And there's plenty to savor. Chang's attention to detail is meticulous, and the way the plot navigates societal mores and taboos calls to mind the work of Edith Wharton. The novel's supporting characters are also unpredictable: a brief comic moment reveals the less-than-charitable thoughts of two of Shijun's relatives upon seeing each other for the first time in years: "It's really awful when a man our age gets sick. One bad spell, and he looks positively geriatric!" "Those false teeth make Jyu-sun look like a buck-toothed granny. What a decline since I last saw him!" Over the course of the novel, romance and regret are interlaced, each one given the appropriate weight. With compelling protagonists and a host of memorable supporting characters, this novel tells an emotionally complex story with a number of powerful moments.

    COPYRIGHT(2016) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • The New York Times Book Review "The most mature and fully achieved novel by midcentury writer Eileen Chang, whose work was beloved by readers in Hong Kong and Taiwan, yet banned in mainland China until the 1990s. . . . A small masterpiece of understatement and indirection. It has a grave tenderness, alert to the manners and gestures of bourgeois family life, almost reminiscent of Henry James or Edith Wharton. It's an excellent introduction to the complex work of an underappreciated writer."
  • The Wall Street Journal "An enveloping, haunting and insightful read, rich in Chang's trademark passionate prose."
  • The Kansas City Star "Half a Lifelong Romance is broad in its scope and exceptionally moving in its characterizations, painting a picture of life in China in the 1930s. . . . Chang's legacy as one of the most important Chinese writers of the 20th century is fully realized in this work. . . . Chang's characters' tragic yet sometimes comical attempts to navigate unfair expectations and maintain illusions of proper manners resonate with all readers regardless of background. These experiences are even reminiscent of the struggles of Jane Austen's protagonists."
  • Helen Oyeyemi in The Week "The silences in this novel, set in 1930s Shanghai, emerge from an extraordinary sensitivity to language and its limitations. So many crucial words unheard or unsaid--a host of flames kindling and dying in silence."
  • Newsday "This novel, originally serialized in China in 1950, is translated into English for the first time: the story of star-crossed lovers in 1930s and '40s Shanghai, kept apart by societal taboos and the scheming of their families."
  • Brit + Co "A heartbreaking tale of a Chinese couple torn apart, this poignant read centers on feelings of passion, hope and true love. It's full of emotion, and rave early reviews suggest it's about to become a beloved classic."
  • Kirkus Reviews "Translator Kingsbury's introduction discusses the book's evolution and the circumstances of its publication, which makes for a compelling story on its own. . . . Though this is, according to Kingsbury's telling, Chang's 'most popular novel,' this edition marks its first English translation. And there's plenty to savor. Chang's attention to detail is meticulous, and the way the plot navigates societal mores and taboos calls to mind the work of Edith Wharton. . . . Over the course of the novel, romance and regret are interlaced, each one given the appropriate weight. With compelling protagonists and a host of memorable supporting characters, this novel tells an emotionally complex story with a number of powerful moments."
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Half a Lifelong Romance
Eileen Chang
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