The Song of Everlasting Sorrow: A Novel of Shanghai

Wang Anyi, Author, Michael Berry, Translator, Susan Chan Egan, Translator , trans. from the Chinese by Michael Berry and Susan Chan Egan. Columbia Univ. $29.50 (440p) ISBN 978-0-231-14342-4

Enamored by Hollywood in prerevolutionary China, Wang Qiyao serendipitously poses for a photograph that is chosen for the cover of Shanghai Life magazine. Dubbed “A Proper Young Lady of Shanghai,” she wins second runner-up in a 1946 beauty pageant and is soon mistress to a wealthy benefactor. After his death, marriage in her fallen state is out of the question, and Wang Qiyao embarks on a lonely, decades-long journey through Shanghai’s myriad longtang , or “vast neighborhoods inside enclosed alleys.” In a beautifully constructed cyclical narrative from Wang Anyi (Baotown ), fashion serves as the lens through which Wang Qiyao analyzes her descent from fleeting fame to desperate anonymity. Charting her fortunes becomes a metaphor for a vanished way of Shanghai life in this ingenious tale: friends and lovers come and go, Maoist China undergoes immense social and political changes (none explicitly detailed), yet Wang Qiyao finds that “[t]here are only so many designs, and their rotation is what defines fashion. Only sometimes a cycle drags on too long.” As the novel builds to its tragic conclusion, the manner in which character types and events recur against the city’s shifting backdrop is impossible to forget. (Mar.)

Reviewed on: 01/21/2008
Release date: 03/01/2008
Genre: Fiction
Ebook - 456 pages - 978-0-231-51309-8
Paperback - 440 pages - 978-0-231-14343-1
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