Title: Half a Lifelong Romance
Author: Eileen Chang
Translator: Karen S. Kingsbury
Published by: Anchor
Where I got the book: Public Library
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars
One day on a book shop adventure I saw Half a Lifelong Romance and instantly fell in love. I love discovering new authors, translated fiction and the simplicity of the cover just drew me in. It was one of the best reading decisions I made in 2016.
The story takes place in Shanghai during the 1930s. Shen Shijun is a young engineer who has fallen in love with his colleague Gu Manzhen. Shen Shijun is determined to resist his family’s attempt to match him with his wealthy cousin and marry the woman he loves. However this road to love and marriage is not smooth as dark circumstances, family secrets, treachery, betrayal and lust, force the two lovers apart. Separated, Shen Shijun and Gu Manzhen lose track of each other, their lives filled with missed connections, schemes, and tragic misunderstandings, as social expectations prevent their prospects of finding happiness together.
I made the mistake of going in and expecting a classic happy ending. Make no mistake that this is a love story, but it’s a dark and tragic tale. Eileen Chang’s writing just pulls you in in a way that’s hard for me to describe. It doesn’t have the same almost ethereal and incorporeal tone as in Human Acts or The Briefcase, but still holds a sensibility that’s both light and dark that I’ve come to associate with the translated literature I’ve read from East Asian writers.
Half a Lifelong Romance is a beautiful, dark and impactful read that surprises and trips you up. I’m surprised and saddened that this book isn’t talked about more considering Eileen Chang is considered one of China’s best writers of the 20th century. I highly recommend this book if you’re looking for a dark tale of heartbreak and to check out Eileen Chang’s other work.