February 19, 2018 by TinyNavajo
Half a Lifelong Romance by Eileen Chang
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
From one of 20-century China’s greatest writers is an unforgettable love story that spans half a lifetime. This has been one of the more interesting reads of this year, I had no idea what I really expected, but it was not this. I enjoyed it, it gave me a feeling of actual life in a way.
Our two main characters, Gu Manzhen and Shen Shijun, meet as coworkers in a Shanghai factory in the 1930s. Despite their differences in background, they fall love and start to tentatively plan their future together. But through the two years that they date/court, life starts to spring up. Manzhen knows that she still needs to be able to work, in order to provide for her family, her aging mother, and grandmother, along with all of her younger siblings. Shijun wants to help Manzhen support her family, which is usually done through marriage, but Manzhen won’t let him, saying that he needs to focus on his career before he has to support her family.
When Shijun gets news that his father’s health is starting to fail him, Shijun quits his job at the factory to take over the family business. As he starts to figure out his life in the country, Shijun and Mazhen’s relationship starts to strain and they start to think that maybe they don’t really know what they want. As their relationship breaks, and they start to go their separate ways in life, they both realize that they still love each other, in the little ways they perk up with a name is mentioned, when they walk through a familiar section of Shanghai, all the little things that trigger your memory of a past lover.
Manzhen and Shijun find that they have suddenly shot forward in life after they separated from each other, and they see that their lives have become very different from the one they vaguely envisioned with each other. They are able to see each other one last time, almost by accident, in Shijun’s hometown, where they are able to finally say goodbye to each other, and to the life they might have had.
This was a heart-wrenching story in a way that makes it real. With the title of this book, I expected to read a story about two characters who had a whirlwind romance, separated by war, to be brought back together to enjoy the rest of their lives together. Not at all what I got, but I still felt the realness of this love story. I still felt the love the two main characters had, not only for each other but for their families as well, which influenced their stories more than they thought their families would originally. I just loved the writing and the story that unfolded through half a lifetime of living that the two had.
What book has given you a different story than what the title told you it would be? Comment below and let me know!