“Hong Kong’s defeat had brought Liusu victory. But in this unreasonable world, who can distinguish cause from effect? Who knows which is which? Did a great city fall so that she could be vindicated? Countless thousands of people dead, countless thousands of people suffering … Liusu didn’t feel there was anything subtle about her place in history. She stood up, smiling, and kicked the pan of mosquito-repellant incense under the table.
Those legendary beauties who felled cities and kingdoms were probably all like that.”Love in a Fallen City, Eileen Chang
Two pages into the first novella, Aloeswood Incense, I was reminded of the Original Feminists panel at the Penguin Classics pop-up in London last spring. Paraphrasing rather poorly, but: it really is a special kind of heartache to love so fiercely books that don’t love you back. Did that make sense? Stay with me.
Moving on to the titular story (and my personal favourite), Love in a Fallen City, my heart was so full it was near bursting. Revealing my address on the Internet is perhaps not the wisest course of action; nevertheless, it was so incredibly surreal to see a Penguin Modern Classic take place just a street over from where I live, and celebrating my home city with such palpable, understated lucidity. 🇭🇰
Going back to that paraphrase, younger me was besotted with Austen, Orinda and Gaskell, but in each author was always confronted with a Single Story disconnect (see: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie). I wish she had found this collection sooner.
Thank you, Penguin Books and Karen S. Kingsbury, for this translation. I can’t wait to see our canon continue to broaden.