Known as "the Garbo of Chinese letters" for her elegance and the aura of mystery that surrounded her, Eileen Chang is regarded as one of the greatest and most influential modern Chinese novelists and cultural critics of the twentieth century. In Written on Water, first published in 1945 and now available for the first time in English, Chang offers essays on art, literature, war, and urban life, as well as autobiographical reflections. Chang takes in the sights and sounds of wartime Shanghai and Hong Kong, with the tremors of national upheaval and the drone of warplanes in the background, and inventively fuses explorations of urban life, literary trends, domestic habits, and historic events.
These evocative and moving firsthand accounts examine the subtle and not-so-subtle effects of the Japanese bombing and occupation of Shanghai and Hong Kong. Eileen Chang writes of friends, colleagues, and teachers turned soldiers or wartime volunteers, and her own experiences as a part-time nurse. Her nuanced depictions range from observations of how a woman's elegant dress affects morale to descriptions of hospital life.
With a distinctive style that is at once meditative, vibrant, and humorous, Chang engages the reader through sly, ironic humor; an occasionally chatty tone; and an intense fascination with the subtleties of modern urban life. The collection vividly captures the sights and sounds of Shanghai, a city defined by its mix of tradition and modernity. Chang explores the city's food, fashions, shops, cultural life, and social mores; she reveals and upends prevalent attitudes toward women and in the process presents a portrait of a liberated, cosmopolitan woman, enjoying the opportunities, freedoms, and pleasures offered by urban life. In addition to her descriptions of daily life, Chang also reflects on a variety of artistic and literary issues, including contemporary films, the aims of the writer, the popularity of the Peking Opera, dance, and painting.
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Eileen Chang (1920-1995), who lived in the United States after fleeing Communist China in 1956, was a prominent fiction writer, essayist, and public intellectual. She is the author of Romances, The Rice-Sprout Song: A Novel of Modern China, and The Rouge of the North.Andrew F. Jones is associate professor of Chinese at the University of California, Berkeley. He is the author of Yellow Music: Media Culture and Colonial Modernity in the Chinese Jazz Age and Like a Knife: Ideology and Genre in Contemporary Chinese Popular Music, and the translator of Yu Hua's Chronicle of a Blood Merchant.Review:
[Chang's] obsession with privacy made her known as the 'Garbo of Chinese letters,' and photographs reveal a woman whose elegance and contemplative introspection justify that title. Nevertheless, from out of the frenzy of renown that surrounded her, the sheer quality of Chang's prose emerges clearly, and her voice-raw, low, exquisitely modulated-has a sound like none other in the canon of Chinese, or for that matter, American prose stylists.(Boston Review)
Original, memorable and unlike anything else that has come from the era. A fine contribution to Chinese letters in translation.(*Starred review* Kirkus Reviews)
It is the warmth and sophistication of her observations that fix her in literature. One settles in almost immediately for a chat that could last a lifetime.(Susan Salter Reynolds Los Angeles Times)
Chang captures the subtleties of the urban experience, pointedly from a woman's perspective, and the trivialities of daily endeavors during the Japanese occupation, with humor and insight.(Booklist)
Invariably, Chang catches the moment and crystallizes the experience; with her preferred "forthright simplicity" and whimsical line drawings, she knows how to beguile her readers.(Peter Skinner ForeWord Magazine)
In these joyfully self-absorbed essays she anticipated the New Journalism...They combine timeless girlishness with utterly fresh feminism.(Ms.)
The complex feelings that she reveals when talking about the arts contrast with her depictions of her own life, and help the reader to understand the mind of a woman trying to come to terms with her life through her passions.(Bust)
Chang's self-effacing, mannered prose and power for observing visual designs and social manners shine when she writes of fashion, the family, her past, and film and drama.(Choice)
Chinese Communist Correctness has long since receded, changing Eileen Chang's writing from being a guilty pleasure to simply a pleasure.(Lucas Klein Rain Taxi 1900-01-00)
Always perceptive, imaginative, outspoken, and capable of the most sensitive empathy and sympathy.(David E. Pollard Renditions 1900-01-00)
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