Following the best-selling work Little Reunion, another of Eileen Chang’s semi-autobiographical novels, The Fall of the Pagoda (288pp, Hong Kong University Press, $17.95) is being published to commemorate the 80th anniversary of Chang’s birth and the 15th anniversary of her death.
Song Yilang, executor of Chang’s estate, said the title symbolizes the collapse of traditional society and feudalism.
Chang wrote the book based on her experience of the changes in Chinese society and was influenced by her family’s suffering. Its second half, Book of Change, will be published this September.
Fall of the Pagoda, originally written in English, was finished in 1963 while Chang was in the US.
Song said Chang had tried to contact American publishers to release the book, but they said a story about a heroine’s childhood in China would no appeal to American readers.
“However, through a letter Chang wrote to her friend we have learned that she wanted to publish her English work very much and never believed the book was not good enough,” Song said.
Fall introduces a young girl growing up in Shanghai amid many family entanglements with her divorced mother and spinster aunt during the 1930s, when the International Settlement in Shanghai was known as the “lonely isle,” a place relatively safe from the invading Japanese army.
Song said the book was finished 10 years before Little Reunion, which was one of the top 10 bestsellers in China last year. Many details and scenes from Fall of the Pagoda were recycled in the later work.
The Book of Change, the second of two semi-autobiographical novels, narrates her experience as a student at the University of Victoria in Hong Kong, including the fall of Hong Kong after Pearl Harbor, at the end of 1941.
The novels contain lengthy discussions of the relationship between a fictionalized Chang and her selfishly demanding mother, as well as of intricate dynamics in the extended families who emerged from aristocratic households of the late Qing Dynasty.
While the main characters belong to the new Republican period, their views and everyday lives remain haunted by shadows of the past.
Chang was known for being unsociable and extremely private. That she was only discovered several days after her death in 1995 testifies to her seclusion. Her work frequently dealt with the tensions of love.