by Eileen Chang, introduction by Perry Link
Set in the early years of Mao’s China, Naked Earth is the story of two earnest young people confronting the grim realities of revolutionary change. Liu Ch’üan and Su Nan meet in the countryside after volunteering to assist in the new land reform program. Eager to build a more just society, they are puzzled and shocked by the brutality, barely disguised corruption, and ruthless careerism they discover, but then quickly silenced by the barrage of propaganda and public criticism that is directed at anyone who appears to doubt a righteous cause. Joined together by the secret of their common dismay, they remain in touch when Liu departs to work on a newspaper in Peking, where Su Nan eventually also moves. Something like love begins to grow between them—but then a new round of purges sweeps through the revolutionary ranks.
One of the greatest and most loved of modern Chinese writers, Eileen Chang illuminates the dark corners of the human existence with a style of disorienting beauty. Naked Earth, unavailable in English for more than fifty years, is a harrowing tale of perverted ideals, damaged souls, deepest loneliness, and terror.
An unrelenting portrait of love and loss in Maoist China...Chang develops a tragic wartime romance that leaves readers with a painfully clear picture of just how deeply Mao's reign scarred her native country.
There is no doubt about the compassionate quality of the novel, the purity of its language, and the metaphorical richness of its imagery.
In its quieter and more humorous moments... the novel shines: Liu tracking the increasing handsomeness of cinematic depictions of Stalin over time; gender-neutral revolutionary clothing proving handy after two characters must present themselves quickly after a tryst. And it's telling that this novel ends on a personal note rather than on a political one. Chang's novel can be less than subtle at times, but its description of small compromises and grand despair are both affecting and compelling.
Praise for Love in a Fallen City (NYRB Classics)
Chang's powerful, cruel tales are usually without a vestige of tenderness or redemptive faith, but the existential hell in which they unfold is luxuriously furnished and full of sensuous temptations.
A major rediscovery.
She expertly burdens her characters with failed dreams and stifled possibilities, leads them to push aside the heavy curtains of family and convention, and then shows them a yawning emptiness. Their different responses are brilliantly underplayed and fascinating.