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Zhaoyan Ye, Author, Ye Zhaoyan, Author, Michael Berry, Translator NANJING 1937: A Love StoryYe Zha Columbia Univ. $24.95 (234p) ISBN 978-0-231-12754-7

Enormously popular in China, this winning, witty English-language debut by Ye (author of more than 30 books in his native country) traces the unlikely romance between a womanizing professor and the much younger wife of a fighter pilot on the eve of the catastrophic Japanese invasion of Nanjing. Ding Wenyu has been known to storm out of class if there aren't enough pretty girls to teach. He's legendary among his students for his brothel slang and clowning. Outside the classroom, the intemperate Ding bemoans his disintegrating marriage while recklessly seducing countless other women. He's perpetually drunk and despondent until, at the wedding of one of his colleague's daughters, he falls madly in love—with the bride. Ding discomfits the young Ren Yuyuan with his lovestruck stares. After the wedding, he sends Ren daily love letters and bides his time as her relationship with her solemn, philandering husband slowly unravels. Bitter and lonely, Ren finds Ding's attentions newly intriguing. Ding, for his part, feels his lifelong cynicism give way to genuine emotion. The pending war lends the romance a special urgency, and the lovers finally consummate their affair as the first Japanese soldiers storm into Nanjing. Ye paints a rich tableau of prewar Chinese politics and social mores. The contrast between the advance of the Japanese and Ding's slow seduction of Ren is both poignant and deliciously ironic. The only weakness is Berry's uneven, sometimes stiff translation ("At the wedding ceremony... the biggest embarrassment Ding Wenyu caused stemmed from the way he wantonly stared at the bride Yuyuan"). (Jan.)

Reviewed on: 12/23/2002
Release date: 12/01/2002
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