Go and fetch, will you please, a copper incense brazier, a family heirloom gorgeously encrusted now with moldy green, and light in it some pungent chips of aloeswood. Listen while I tell a Hong Kong tale, from before the war. When your incense has burned out, my story too will be over. (7)
It was a humid spring evening, and the Hong Kong hills are famous for their fog. The white Liang mansion was melting viscously into the white mist, leaving only the greenish gleam of the lamplight shining through square after square of the green windowpanes, like ice cubes in peppermint schnapps. When the fog thickened, the ice cubes dissolved, and the lights went out. (25)
Hanging inside each dress was a little white satin sachet filled with lilac petals; the closet smelled of their sweet scent. (28)
Weilong couldn’t get to sleep; as soon as she shut her eyes she was trying on clothes, one outfit after another. Woolen things, thick and furry as a perturbing jazz dance; crushed-velvet things, deep and sad as an aria from a Western opera; rich, fine silks, smooth and slippery like “The Blue Danube,” coolly enveloping the whole body. (29)
It was dark inside the closet, and the lilac scent made her dizzy. The air of the faraway past was in there — decorous, languid, heedless of time. (33)
I read the first story (or novella) in Eileen Chang’s Love in a Fallen City last night after taking it out from the library, entranced by its beautiful cover, intending only to begin with a few pages, eyes half closed, lying down in bed. But the pages kept turning, the beautiful words spinning through my mind, until both eyes were open and I had read to the end. This is exactly the refreshingly different and poetic writing I am always hoping to find. I’ve been reading a lot of British books, mostly from the 19th and early 20th century, for the last few years, but now I’ve found something new and exciting to explore with my first experience (which won’t be the last) of Chinese literature.