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Little Reunions (New York Review Books Classics)

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A best-selling, autobiographical depiction of class privilege, bad romance, and political intrigue during World War II in China. Now available in English for the first time, Eileen Chang’s dark romance opens with Julie, living at a convent school in Hong Kong on the eve of the Japanese invasion. Her mother, Rachel, long divorced from Julie’s opium-addict father, saunters ar A best-selling, autobiographical depiction of class privilege, bad romance, and political intrigue during World War II in China. Now available in English for the first time, Eileen Chang’s dark romance opens with Julie, living at a convent school in Hong Kong on the eve of the Japanese invasion. Her mother, Rachel, long divorced from Julie’s opium-addict father, saunters around the world with various lovers. Recollections of Julie’s horrifying but privileged childhood in Shanghai clash with a flamboyant, sometimes incestuous cast of relations that crowd her life. Eventually, back in Shanghai, she meets the magnetic Chih-yung, a traitor who collaborates with the Japanese puppet regime. Soon they’re in the throes of an impassioned love affair that swings back and forth between ardor and anxiety, secrecy and ruin. Like Julie’s relationship with her mother, her marriage to Chih-yung is marked by long stretches of separation interspersed with unexpected little reunions. Chang’s emotionally fraught, bitterly humorous novel holds a fractured mirror directly in front of her own heart.


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A best-selling, autobiographical depiction of class privilege, bad romance, and political intrigue during World War II in China. Now available in English for the first time, Eileen Chang’s dark romance opens with Julie, living at a convent school in Hong Kong on the eve of the Japanese invasion. Her mother, Rachel, long divorced from Julie’s opium-addict father, saunters ar A best-selling, autobiographical depiction of class privilege, bad romance, and political intrigue during World War II in China. Now available in English for the first time, Eileen Chang’s dark romance opens with Julie, living at a convent school in Hong Kong on the eve of the Japanese invasion. Her mother, Rachel, long divorced from Julie’s opium-addict father, saunters around the world with various lovers. Recollections of Julie’s horrifying but privileged childhood in Shanghai clash with a flamboyant, sometimes incestuous cast of relations that crowd her life. Eventually, back in Shanghai, she meets the magnetic Chih-yung, a traitor who collaborates with the Japanese puppet regime. Soon they’re in the throes of an impassioned love affair that swings back and forth between ardor and anxiety, secrecy and ruin. Like Julie’s relationship with her mother, her marriage to Chih-yung is marked by long stretches of separation interspersed with unexpected little reunions. Chang’s emotionally fraught, bitterly humorous novel holds a fractured mirror directly in front of her own heart.

30 review for Little Reunions (New York Review Books Classics)

  1. 5 out of 5

    Jenny (Reading Envy)

    The translator for this book had quite the task, because it isn't just the words needing translated, but also a complex family structure and intricate layers of meanings behind gestures and comments. But to read a "romance" of sorts set in Shanghai right before the Communist Revolution is a very specific capture of a moment in time. This is its first time in English, and although it was written in the 1970s, it was not published in China until 2009. It is somewhat challenging to read because of The translator for this book had quite the task, because it isn't just the words needing translated, but also a complex family structure and intricate layers of meanings behind gestures and comments. But to read a "romance" of sorts set in Shanghai right before the Communist Revolution is a very specific capture of a moment in time. This is its first time in English, and although it was written in the 1970s, it was not published in China until 2009. It is somewhat challenging to read because of the complex relationship trees, and reminds me of a 19th century novel of manners, but with a new setting, one I am less familiar with. One where loyalties are complicated, love is not always monogamous, and leaving is sometimes the best option. (That's where the title comes from, all the "little reunions" people would have when returning from exile/pilgrimage/escape.) The central character of Julie shares some characteristics with the author, in that they both had to leave school in Hong Kong when the Japanese invaded during World War II, and they both ended up married to Japanese sympathizers who ended up as traitors. Thanks to the publisher for providing early access to this title via Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review. The book comes out January 16, 2018.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Bkwmlee

    3.5 stars. Let me start off by saying that Eileen Chang is one of my favorite Chinese authors. I was an Asian Studies major back in college and it was in one of the many Chinese Literature classes I took back then that I was first exposed to Eileen Chang’s writing. The very first work I read of Chang’s happened to be her most famous and critically acclaimed novella “The Golden Cangue” – the version I read was from the anthology Modern Chinese Stories and Novellas: 1919-1949 (published by Colu 3.5 stars. Let me start off by saying that Eileen Chang is one of my favorite Chinese authors. I was an Asian Studies major back in college and it was in one of the many Chinese Literature classes I took back then that I was first exposed to Eileen Chang’s writing. The very first work I read of Chang’s happened to be her most famous and critically acclaimed novella “The Golden Cangue” – the version I read was from the anthology Modern Chinese Stories and Novellas: 1919-1949 (published by Columbia University Press in the 1980s), which I found out later was a version that had been translated by Chang herself (Chang was fluent in both Chinese and English and wrote in both languages, though most of her earlier works were in Chinese and she only started writing in English after moving from Shanghai to Hong Kong – and later to the United States -- in the 1950s). Since then, I have read many of Chang’s works off and on and also watched my fair share of movies / TV series that had been adapted from Chang’s various works over the years. As one of the most famous and influential Chinese writers of the 20th century, Chang’s repertoire was quite prolific – in addition to writing short stories, novellas, essays, and novels, she also wrote screenplays and scripts for both film and stage as well as did translation work for her own works and those of others. One of the things that set Chang apart from many of her contemporaries during her time was the fact that much of her writing focused on the complexity of relationships, love, family, societal conventions, and everyday life (in China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan), but without the heavy political slant that was a common characteristic in much of the Chinese literature of that period (ironically though, despite Chang’s largely apolitical stance and her focus on writing love stories set against the backdrop of the time period in which she lived, two of her most well-known works -- both written after she moved to the U.S. in the mid-1950s -- were widely viewed as being “anti-Communist propaganda” due to her searing criticisms of everyday life under Communist China, which caused her works to be banned in Mainland China for many decades). Many of Chang’s works were known for being semi-autobiographical in nature, as her stories often reflected the bitterness, anguish, resentment, disappointments and loneliness that marred much of her childhood and adult life – also, her characters’ often complicated family dynamics as well as frustratingly bitter romantic relationships, most of which usually ended in tragedy, were common themes in her narratives that in large part mirrored her own experiences. In her later years and up until her death in 1995, Chang became increasingly reclusive and chose to live an intensely private life in an apartment in Los Angeles, largely cut off from the outside world. Knowing the above background context and also having already read quite a few of Chang’s earlier works, I went into Little Reunions expecting to see the same beautiful, emotionally poignant storytelling that Chang was known for. In a way, this book, more than her previous works, can be considered her most personal work, as the character of Julie – the main protagonist in the story – is said to be a reflection of Chang’s own self. Indeed, Julie’s family background in the story was very similar to Chang’s: born into a deeply traditional, aristocratic family in Shanghai, to an opium-addicted, abusive father and a sophisticated, worldly mother, Julie was constantly surrounded by a revolving door of meddling relatives and extended family, yet emotionally she was lonely and indifferent as a result of never having experienced true love and support from parents whose lives were selfishly defined by constant love affairs and infidelities. Later, Julie meets the charismatic Chih-yung, a fellow writer who later becomes a traitor working for the Japanese puppet government. Despite Chih-yung already being married and simultaneously attached to other women, Julie engages in a love affair with him, even agreeing to marry him in secret. At the same time, Julie has to deal with her mother’s often cold and indifferent attitude toward her. Just like her relationship with Chih-yung, Julie’s relationship with her mother is fraught with emotional complexity amidst long intervals of necessary “separations” and subsequent “little reunions”. Through Julie, Chang provides insight into the lives of a privileged yet deeply dysfunctional family as they deal with the realities of a country at war (the Japanese occupation of China and the subsequent escalation into WWII), but on a more significant level, she provides intimate and often candid insight into her relationship with the 2 people she loved most – her mother and her first husband. Overall, I would say that this was an interesting story, though definitely not as good as Chang’s previous works. I know that Chang’s writing style changed quite a bit in her later years, especially in the 1960s and 70s when she lived primarily in the U.S. and tried to adapt her writing to mainstream American society. The difference in writing style aside though, it’s important to note the back history of this book and why such a fan of Chang’s work like myself is more than willing to overlook whatever flaws may exist with this book. Eileen Chang actually wrote Little Reunions back in 1976 and upon its completion, she sent the 600+ page handwritten manuscript to her close friend (and literary executor of all her works) Stephen Soong and his wife Mae Fong. After reading the manuscript and understanding the autobiographical nature of the story, the Soongs were concerned that the story’s explosive content – especially the detailed descriptions of Julie’s (Chang’s) intimate relationship with Chih-yung (Chang’s ex-husband Wu Lan-cheng) – could bring untold condemnation upon Chang. They were also concerned that Chang’s ex-husband, the traitor Wu Lan-cheng (who was hiding out in Taiwan at the time and was supposedly waiting for an opportunity to rebuild what he had lost) may try to use the contents of the book to further exploit her (and possibly destroy her). Due to these concerns, the Soongs and Chang decided to “indefinitely hold off” on publishing the novel – over the next 20 years, Chang would continue to make small edits to the manuscript, though it was unclear whether the fully revised version ever got sent to the Soongs. In 1992, in a letter to the Soongs to discuss her will, Chang expressed her intention to “destroy” the manuscript of Little Reunions that was in existence. Three years later, Chang died unexpectedly and one year after that, Stephen Soong also passed away (Mrs. Soong continued to preserve Chang’s manuscript of Little Reunions up until her own death in 2007). In 2009, with the permission of the Soongs’ son Yi-lang, who had taken over for his parents as the literary executor to Chang’s works as well as estate, the original, unedited version of the manuscript (in Chinese) was published in Taiwan, Hong Kong, and China – 14 years after Chang’s death. The version released this year by NYRB (New York Review of Books) is the very first translation of Chang’s “autobiographical” novel into English (published 9 years after the Chinese version came out in Asia and 42 years after the original book was written). With this being one of Chang’s very last published works – and the one that most closely paralleled her own life -- I feel honored to have gotten the chance to read this book. Even though I did have some issues with the nonlinear format of the narrative (which made the story a little hard to follow, especially with the multitude of characters/family members that flitted in and out throughout the story) and also the writing was not what I expected (possibly due to the translation), these were relatively minor issues in the overall scheme of things. For fans of Eileen Chang’s works, this is definitely a “must-read,” though I would recommend reading the original Chinese version in order to hear Chang’s story in her own voice. (Note: After reading the English version, I actually went and bought the Chinese version, as Eileen Chang had a unique narrative voice that no amount of translation could ever do justice to. Some time in the near future, I hope to re-read this book in it’s original context and once I do, I’ll definitely come back here to update this review). Received ARC from NYRB (New York Review of Books) via Edelweiss

  3. 5 out of 5

    Deacon Tom F

    I loved LITTLE REUNION. It gave us a unique perspective of WWII from the Chinese lifestyle. The plot shows the complexity life during the war. In particular, levels of class privilege, the ups and downs in romance, and the multi levels of political intrigue in China. On a negative side, there were too many characters. So many that approximately 5 pages in the back of the book were dedicated to listing these characters. Overall,. I enjoyed this book and recommend it.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Laura

    Even if the plot was excellent in the first part of book, the involvement of all characters managed to keep the reader interested in the book as a whole. 3* Love in a Fallen City 4* Little Reunions

  5. 5 out of 5

    Jai

    It is difficult for me to say that I truly enjoyed this novel. However, I am glad that I did read it. I will preface this review by saying that I feel as though many of the problems I had with this novel stem from my own ignorance and unfamiliarity with Chinese literature and history. Little Reunions follows the main character of Julie as she grapples with her abusive family, her first relationship in the form of an arrogant political dissident Chih-yung, and an encyclopedic cast of characters. It is difficult for me to say that I truly enjoyed this novel. However, I am glad that I did read it. I will preface this review by saying that I feel as though many of the problems I had with this novel stem from my own ignorance and unfamiliarity with Chinese literature and history. Little Reunions follows the main character of Julie as she grapples with her abusive family, her first relationship in the form of an arrogant political dissident Chih-yung, and an encyclopedic cast of characters. There is an actual eight page glossary of characters at the end of the book, many of whom appear for only one or two lines. This extensive cast of characters is one of the more challenging aspects of this novel. Characters appear without any introduction and often with no real characteristics to tell them apart from other characters. Julie, her frequently absent mother Rachel, her aunt Judy, Chih-yung, brother Julian, her opium-addicted father Ned, and her father's second wife Jade Peach were the only characters I had a firm grasp on by the end of this over 300 page novel. Another aspect I struggled with was the writing style. Little Reunions reads like a stream-of-conscious exercise in remembering the events in ones life. Many events take place over the course of a page, sometimes switching time periods in the middle with little rhyme or reason from what I could tell. The prose is also flat and unaffected. Giving no power to individual scenes, rather just letting them play out objectively. Though this can be frustrating, I also found that some more memorable scenes were because of this choice. In particular, an abortion scene as well as description of a rape, are left just as flat as the rest of the novel, but this, for me, heightened their effect. The novel almost reads as a first draft of ideas and thoughts put down directly from the writer's head than a fully realized set of occurences and developed stories and characters. Little Reunions also deals with a lot of Chinese culture that I am unfamiliar with. There are mentions of accents, the shifting of governments, landscapes, and customs that are never explained, just assuming that the reader knows the meaning behind all of it. However, in spite of all my complaints, I find it difficult to outright dislike Little Reunions. I realize that the cultural details I didn't pick up on were of my own failings of knowing little about Chinese culture. The stream-of-conscious style does give an insight into how the memories of one's past become confused and entangled with other memories, which I grew to enjoy more and more as I went on. The unaffected prose made me stop to actually consider what I think about the characters, rather than the novel holding my hand as it enforces its own agenda. It is a very different novel than most that I have read, and I have a hard time recommending it, but in the end this exposure to Eileen Chang's thoughts and culture is something that will, most likely, stick with me for a while. It is also worth noting that Little Reunions is a semi-autobiographical account of Eileen Chang's own life, which I would recommend knowing before delving in (as I had only figured out after I had read it).

  6. 4 out of 5

    James Murphy

    This is the story of Julie Sheng ( I wondered if it's a novel with autobiographical elements) from her schoolgirl days at a boarding school in Hong Kong to her finding success and relative happiness as a novelist and screenwriter in her 30s. Her story begins with the Japanese attack on Hong Kong and continues well past the communist victory in the Civil War. The novel is described as a "dark romance." It's probably a fitting label because much of the novel's narrative follows Julie's romance and This is the story of Julie Sheng ( I wondered if it's a novel with autobiographical elements) from her schoolgirl days at a boarding school in Hong Kong to her finding success and relative happiness as a novelist and screenwriter in her 30s. Her story begins with the Japanese attack on Hong Kong and continues well past the communist victory in the Civil War. The novel is described as a "dark romance." It's probably a fitting label because much of the novel's narrative follows Julie's romance and marriage to Shao Chih-Yimg, a collaborator with the Japanese and later a romance with a movie star, Yen Shan. This was an interesting read. Not that many Chinese novels are available to westerners, for one thing. Chang writes as if it wasn't tailored at all for a western audience. Little is explained about Chinese kinship, for instance, or about social attitudes, leaving the reader to figure it out. The novel covers turbulent historical times, too, the final years of the Sino-Japanese war and the Civil War which followed and ended with Mao and the communists winning the country. All those events background the characters without really playing a part in the novel, so Chang doesn't spend time explaining the history. I liked it that she didn't feel she had to. I thought it a difficult read because of the names. Characters often have a kinship designation as well as a name and are referred to interchangeably by either throughout the novel. Julie's mother's name is Rachel, but she's also called Second Aunt. Family members may be referred to by either name or kinship, and though the book does contain a comprehensive character list and kinship identifier, I had to constantly refer to it to learn, for instance, that Third Mistress is Judy, Julie's aunt, or that Second Master is also her father.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Daniel Polansky

    A fictionalized account of Chang’s youth in Shanghai and Hong Kong, as the last child of a fading, internationally oriented caste of Mandarins, with special emphasis on the relationship with her brilliant,, narcistic mother, and her fickle first lover who plays Quisling with the Japanese invaders. I was excited to read this, having really like the other stuff of Chang’s I read, but this was kind of disappointing. A lot of effort goes into trying to express the elaborately complex social relation A fictionalized account of Chang’s youth in Shanghai and Hong Kong, as the last child of a fading, internationally oriented caste of Mandarins, with special emphasis on the relationship with her brilliant,, narcistic mother, and her fickle first lover who plays Quisling with the Japanese invaders. I was excited to read this, having really like the other stuff of Chang’s I read, but this was kind of disappointing. A lot of effort goes into trying to express the elaborately complex social relationships common to this era (there’s a lot of ‘First Uncle’s second concubine and I used to…’), but the narrative remains peculiarly narrow, and I kept hoping for a wider perspective which never really presented itself. She’s obviously talented, there are some savage little bits here and there, but the book feels goopy, like someone do a really deep dive into their familial dirty laundry without the narrative sharpening required for fiction. Disappointing.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Annie

    Never published during her life time, Eileen Chang’s Little Reunions is a highly autobiographical novel of a woman’s complicated life from the 1920s to the 1950s. The novel feels unfinished, and the nonlinear style doesn’t help. To me, Little Reunions is a dizzying look back at a life full of disappointment, insecurity, unrequited love, and guilt. I realize this might not sound like much of a recommendation, but I did like how this novel touched on so many ideas without feeling overstuffed. I fe Never published during her life time, Eileen Chang’s Little Reunions is a highly autobiographical novel of a woman’s complicated life from the 1920s to the 1950s. The novel feels unfinished, and the nonlinear style doesn’t help. To me, Little Reunions is a dizzying look back at a life full of disappointment, insecurity, unrequited love, and guilt. I realize this might not sound like much of a recommendation, but I did like how this novel touched on so many ideas without feeling overstuffed. I feel that I’ve experienced an entire life while reading this book, which is the most I can really ask from a book... Read the rest of my review at A Bookish Type. I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss for review consideration.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Christine

    Jan 2017 NYRB Book Selection -Can't finish because I can't care about any of the characters. I guess my relationship to Chang's work is like my relationship to McEwan's. Jan 2017 NYRB Book Selection -Can't finish because I can't care about any of the characters. I guess my relationship to Chang's work is like my relationship to McEwan's.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Isabella Kratynski

    Here's a book I didn't much care for. I'd been trying to read it for months, and kept failing to find the right headspace for it. But now it's done. It bored me. Too many characters I didn't care anything about — I had trouble keeping them straight. And I could never quite figure out the tone with which to read it. Is it funny or melancholic? Is the awkwardness in the translation (from Chinese) or in the characters, or is it a function of being a world completely foreign to me. The first half of Here's a book I didn't much care for. I'd been trying to read it for months, and kept failing to find the right headspace for it. But now it's done. It bored me. Too many characters I didn't care anything about — I had trouble keeping them straight. And I could never quite figure out the tone with which to read it. Is it funny or melancholic? Is the awkwardness in the translation (from Chinese) or in the characters, or is it a function of being a world completely foreign to me. The first half of the book deals with Julie's upbringing and extended family. There's a complicated family hierarchy of wives and concubines that's tricky to navigate. There are secrets and scandals — many of them not so secret at all. But for the most part, these secrets are only obliquely referenced. Much of this novel reads like a gossip column, with all its tangents of who visited whom wearing what under what pretences. Julie's mother has a string of lovers; she is emotionally and often geographically distant from Julie. (Julie's father, meanwhile, is an opium addict — I would love to read a novel about the women that fell into his world.) It's not until the second half of the novel that Julie falls in love (kind of) and gets married (kind of). I had to read between the lines not only to figure out what Julie felt, but also to piece together what actually happened. At one point, in a seemingly complete disconnect, the story jumps for a few pages to New York City a decade into the future, Julie bathing while waiting for the abortionist. At another point, there's this sex scene: "Hey! What are you doing?" she asked, terrified. His hair brushed against her thigh — the head of a wild beast. The beast sips at the eternal springs of a dark cavern in the netherworld, slurping with his curled tongue. She is a bat hanging upside down at the mouth of a cave. Like a hermit hidden withing the bowels of the mountain being explored, encroached upon, she felt helpless and hopeless. Now the small beast sips at her innermost core, small mouthfuls one at a time. The terror of exposing herself mingled with a burning desire: She wants him back, now! Back to her arms, back to where she can see him. This is such a strange metaphorical paragraph that is completely out of keeping with the rest of the text. But! "The terror of exposing herself" — how telling is that?! Maybe that's the thing, and the source of awkwardness, the terror of exposing oneself. Clearly Julie is brimming with feelings, with regard to her mother, her aunt, her husband, as well as lesser characters like her father and her brother, but is never given rein to express them. So, as with many "young socialite"-type stories, it moves from comedy to tragedy in a flip of the hair.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Karen

    A smoky quartz of a novel. Darkly obscure but still sparkles. Eileen Chang writes from an "it girl" perspective--sex, drugs, frenemies, family dysfunctions, glamour and ruin. It takes place mostly in Shanghai during WWII, but the war is in the background, we never experience combat. The main character, Julie, and her family seemed like they were living on the cusp of privilege and collapse and on the edge of a tremendous cultural shift (the cultural revolution is on the horizon, but for now we c A smoky quartz of a novel. Darkly obscure but still sparkles. Eileen Chang writes from an "it girl" perspective--sex, drugs, frenemies, family dysfunctions, glamour and ruin. It takes place mostly in Shanghai during WWII, but the war is in the background, we never experience combat. The main character, Julie, and her family seemed like they were living on the cusp of privilege and collapse and on the edge of a tremendous cultural shift (the cultural revolution is on the horizon, but for now we can still feel some of the British/European influence). This is a world where Nazi soldiers and American sailors consort with Chinese women with bound feet and permed hair, and relationships are constantly in flux. I never felt like I truly understood exactly what was going on, plot-wise, in this novel, yet I kept delving into it never really losing interest (except a little bit toward the end). It seemed like nothing was stated explicitly and time was treated like an ocean washing around me instead of running forward like a train. This was a reading experience that took me out of my wheelhouse.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Camelia Rose

    Eileen Chang is one of my favourite Chinese writers. This book, a semiautobiographical novel written long after she had emigrated to US, was published only a few years ago posthumously. Any fan of Eileen Chang must have known she was a very private person who fiercely guarded her privacy. It's good and bad that we readers now can get a close look at the most intimate part of her. There were two people in Chang's life whom she loved dearly, yet her love unfulfilled. One was her beautiful, talente Eileen Chang is one of my favourite Chinese writers. This book, a semiautobiographical novel written long after she had emigrated to US, was published only a few years ago posthumously. Any fan of Eileen Chang must have known she was a very private person who fiercely guarded her privacy. It's good and bad that we readers now can get a close look at the most intimate part of her. There were two people in Chang's life whom she loved dearly, yet her love unfulfilled. One was her beautiful, talented and sensitive mother, another was her first husband. The estranged mother-daughter relationship cuts me deeply. Eileen Chang is famous for her astonishingly beautiful and piercingly poignant stories with a feminine focus. Her writing is lucid and flawless. However, comparing this book with her early works, I notice a difference in the language style. To me, it reads as if she were thinking in English while writing in Chinese.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Harrison

    A dizzying out-pouring of uninteresting anecdotes and a list of ‘characters’ so extensive that a glossary is given at the end of the book. I could not bring myself to finish this; after 150 pages I had yet to encounter a single actual character. I very much enjoyed the last Chang I read, but this is a droll slog through family histories and petulant, ordinary dramas.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Yijun He

    auto-biographic based novel.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Yuqi Jiang

    Not the easiest read but some bits were memorable and resonated with me.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Briana

    This is really more like a 2.5 to me because I have such respect for Eileen Chang but this review will unfortunately have a lot of gripes. I understand that this was published after her death so who knows if this is the finalized product in her mind. I also have an issue with the tone but I don't know if it's because of a bad translation or what. I don't know what it is about it. Perhaps it's an "it's not you, it's me" situation because I've heard great things about Little Reunions in literary ci This is really more like a 2.5 to me because I have such respect for Eileen Chang but this review will unfortunately have a lot of gripes. I understand that this was published after her death so who knows if this is the finalized product in her mind. I also have an issue with the tone but I don't know if it's because of a bad translation or what. I don't know what it is about it. Perhaps it's an "it's not you, it's me" situation because I've heard great things about Little Reunions in literary circles. This is my first Chinese literature translation and my first Eileen Chang novel. What I appreciate is the introduction to Chinese culture. It opens in Hong Kong on the eve of the Japanese invasion in 1941. The main character Julie comes from a family of decaying wealth and her mother is Rachel, a socialite who flits around the world with her lovers. Julie falls in love with a traitor who is working with the Japanese and the synopsis promises a tale of mistaken love, glamour, and wit. The story drifts in and out of comedy and tragedy. Julie's father is an opium addict and her first marriage almost immediately begins with drama. The synopsis is good and I found glimpses of what was promised in the text. My biggest complaint is that it's a lot of information too soon for a relatively short novel. There is an eight page glossary of characters in the back of the book which is excessive for a novel that's not even 330 pages long in story. I am immediately hit with names and descriptions of characters who don't really play a part in the plot at all and there's so much detail about them only for them to not even serve as secondary characters. The tone of the novel is flat, tedious, and meandering at times. This reads more like a stream of consciousness, there is a lot of jumping around in time and things are overly explained. Again, I don't know if it's the translation but it seems like the things that are important to the plot end up getting glossed over with vague explanations while other parts of the novel go into excessive detail. I didn't enjoy this and I'm disappointed that I didn't because I've enjoyed films written by her and I admire her life story.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Karen Kao

    The Republic of China didn’t last long as dynasties go. It ran from the fall of the Qing in 1912 to the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949. In China, you don’t speak of, let alone praise, the Republican Era. Except during a brief moment of time when Republican fever raged through China. Qipao and round wire-rimmed glasses came back into fashion. Some shops reverted to traditional characters to make their store signs. Broadminded parents gave their children Republican era textbooks The Republic of China didn’t last long as dynasties go. It ran from the fall of the Qing in 1912 to the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949. In China, you don’t speak of, let alone praise, the Republican Era. Except during a brief moment of time when Republican fever raged through China. Qipao and round wire-rimmed glasses came back into fashion. Some shops reverted to traditional characters to make their store signs. Broadminded parents gave their children Republican era textbooks. This was the year 2009, when Little Reunions by Eileen Chang was published. Eileen Chang is one of my literary heroes. Her short story collection, Love in a Fallen City, influenced the way I described Shanghai in my own novel, The Dancing Girl and the Turtle. The film version of her novella, Lust, Caution, is my picture of wartime Shanghai: the clothes, the furnishings, the snacks at the mahjong table. When New York Review Books announced that it would issue a new translation of Little Reunions, I was eager to read. To see more of this review, please visit my website to read Republican Fever.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Amy

    Rounding up. This feels more like an unedited draft than a finished work (maybe that is true, as it wasn’t published until after she died). It jumps around a lot, and the characters are confusing (the key at the end helps). On the other hand, many of the things that I liked so much about this author in Love in a Fallen City are present here, too — women who are too observant of their own sometimes unfair circumstances to ever be wholly at ease, well-observed family tension, scandals over men who Rounding up. This feels more like an unedited draft than a finished work (maybe that is true, as it wasn’t published until after she died). It jumps around a lot, and the characters are confusing (the key at the end helps). On the other hand, many of the things that I liked so much about this author in Love in a Fallen City are present here, too — women who are too observant of their own sometimes unfair circumstances to ever be wholly at ease, well-observed family tension, scandals over men who don’t deserve them. Probably worth a read if you are a fan, but you might walk away a little baffled.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Aubrey

    1.5/5 Julie didn't like modern history, but now modern history was pounding on the door. I really don't know what happened with this book. I may have suffered from "must praise this already praised classic in order to err on the side of positivity" with Love in a Fallen City, but Half of a Lifelong Romance was truly masterful, as was the film for Lust, Caution. This, however, was tedious enough to make the fourth volume of The Story of the Stone a breath of fresh air, and one would think that 1.5/5 Julie didn't like modern history, but now modern history was pounding on the door. I really don't know what happened with this book. I may have suffered from "must praise this already praised classic in order to err on the side of positivity" with Love in a Fallen City, but Half of a Lifelong Romance was truly masterful, as was the film for Lust, Caution. This, however, was tedious enough to make the fourth volume of The Story of the Stone a breath of fresh air, and one would think that translation of Mandarin Chinese to English would be easier when the translation was happening in the 21st century and not the mid 20th and the writing had happened in the early 20th century and not the late 18th. It's a shame because most of Chang's other well known works were commissioned as US propaganda, and I"m not desperate enough yet to aid capitalism in its literary efforts to defend itself. I'm not going to say Chang would've been right in destroying the manuscript as she spoke of doing once upon a time, but I've read enough translations of Mandarin to know better than to shoot the messenger, so it makes me wonder about my own tastes and pretenses taken as tastes, and whether I really have improved at all when it comes to my grasp on the literature of this particular corner of the world. In her mind the concept of communism wasn't that impressive; contemporary values held that everyone deserved to have enough food anyway, and things like education should meet individual needs. Implementation, of course, was another matter. To justify my comparison of this to The Story of the Stone, this book was as caked, if not even moreso, with characters and relatives of characters and myriad others whose designations alternated between names and nicknames and titles and ranks to the point of putting the average Russian novel to shame. However, there was not nearly as emotional resonance in this as there is in Xueqin's narrative, which may be melodramatic at times but at least not only acknowledges but gives enough text over to reacting sufficiently to brutality, which a lack of can make someone feel they are wading through nonsensical treacle. In this novel, there were only hints and mentions of the usual skeletons that hold narratives together, such as the narrator's internal development, in the midst of endless rote visits and evaluations of gossip; all very talk and barely any show. I expected a very different narrative whilst settling into the beginning of boarding schools and Japanese airstrikes, and what I got pretty much swelled slowly on with very little gratifying build up or swirls of development of any sort; people changed, but it was all either extremely blasé or emotional to the point of hysterics, and it didn't make for much motivation when it came to keeping track of the the characters and intertwining plots. All in all, it was a slow and escalatingly painful slog, and that is not something I would have expected at all from the previous two books I've read of Chang's. Such is unfortunately sometimes the result of taking a chance on a name, however familiar or previously well received. Julie felt terribly exposed, as if she were a net of flesh sailing in the sky to catch every single shard of shrapnel. Some good quotes here and there, as you can see, but not nearly enough to merit 300+ pages. As such, my adventures of both up and down continue when it comes to revisiting old authors in new guises. I wouldn't have expected Chang to take the fall, but perhaps my usual lack of tolerance for agonizing romance was exacerbated enough by Before Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept that I just can't stand it anywhere else, especially when I expected something about the political intrigues of WWII Shanghai that wasn't just a single quisling sleeping with a bunch of women and eventually fading out into the distance. My integrity may not hold out in the face of Chang's other, more politically mercantile publications, but it'll probably be a while before I attempt her again, perhaps not until I reread HoaLLR and figure out whether I've truly lost my taste for her writing or not. I truly hope not, so if her Lust, Caution shows up, I'm definitely grabbing it. There are too few Chinese women writers on my radar for me to forsake one without some more gathering of empirical evidence. Besides, this work didn't do anything particularly loathsome. It was just, for the most part, very, very, very boring. Nationalism is a common twentieth-century religion. Julie was not a believer. Nationalism is just a process. We went through it in the Han and T'ang dynasties centuries ago. That sounds like a cover for weakness. In international relations, talking about three or five thousand years of civilization means nothing—only power and a willingness to fight can win respect. But what's there to say if you're dead? You have to be alive to achieve anything.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Iron Mike

    This book was the Feb selection for the NYRB book club. First translated Chinese book I've ever read. Very disjointed in places, perhaps this is the style? One paragraph would suddenly end a thought and the author would jump to another topic for a few paragraphs then move to another, all without any sort of break. But, I still wanted to know what happened to Julie, Judy and Rachel. So I kept reading. Methinks this is semi-autobiographical. I may look up the author to see if she did live through This book was the Feb selection for the NYRB book club. First translated Chinese book I've ever read. Very disjointed in places, perhaps this is the style? One paragraph would suddenly end a thought and the author would jump to another topic for a few paragraphs then move to another, all without any sort of break. But, I still wanted to know what happened to Julie, Judy and Rachel. So I kept reading. Methinks this is semi-autobiographical. I may look up the author to see if she did live through what Julie did.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Taylor Lee

    Dreamlike plateaus of memory make this semi-autobiographical novel a rich world livable for the extent of its pages. Structurally inconsistent and jarring, though, the staccato nature may cause the narrative to be confusingly experienced.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Nikolai Lipnicky

    The pacing felt awkward where it would fast forward to the next hour, next day, or maybe go several years ahead. But overall everything Eileen Chang and the reason why I love her is all in this novel.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Susan

    This book carries themes from her other novels, novellas, and short stories and it’s just as magical. She was ahead of her time when it comes to feminist stories and shows that even strong women cannot escape the patriarchy.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Connie M

    DID NOT FINISH- I really wanted to like this book, but after reading 90 pages I still couldn’t get into the story. I found it difficult to discern from the past and present and to feel any sympathy toward the main character.

  25. 4 out of 5

    DD

    At least the use of stream of consciousness did not flop lol. Actually quite like it. Never expect a Chinese writer to write something like this. Definitely read it again later.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Tom Wascoe

    Extremely confusing book. Many flash-forwards and flash-backwards give this story the feeling of "stream of consciousness" writing. An excellent insight into the Chinese culture. Extremely confusing book. Many flash-forwards and flash-backwards give this story the feeling of "stream of consciousness" writing. An excellent insight into the Chinese culture.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Geoff Greene

    Don't know if it was the translation or me but I just didn't click with this book. Don't know if it was the translation or me but I just didn't click with this book.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Louise

    3.5 really

  29. 4 out of 5

    Ashley

    2.5. Maybe it's the translation I had but I just never connected with anybody. 2.5. Maybe it's the translation I had but I just never connected with anybody.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Hannah Swanwick

    i <3 julie

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