The Library of Legends by Janie Chang
English | 2020 | General Fiction/Classics | ePUB | 2.4 MB
China, 1937: When Japanese bombs begin falling on the city of Nanking, nineteen-year-old Hu Lian and her classmates at Minghua University are ordered to flee. Lian and a convoy of more than a hundred students, faculty, and staff must walk a thousand miles to the safety of China’s western provinces, a journey marred by hunger, cold, and the constant threat of aerial attack. And it is not just the student refugees who are at risk: Lian and her classmates have been entrusted with a priceless treasure, a 500-year-old collection of myths and folklore known as the Library of Legends.
Her family’s past has made Lian wary of forming attachments, but the students’ common duty to safeguard the Library of Legends forms unexpected bonds. Lian finds friendship and a cautious romance with the handsome and wealthy Liu Shaoming. But after one classmate is murdered and another arrested, Lian realizes she must escape from the convoy before a family secret puts her in danger. Accompanied by Shao and the enigmatic maidservant Sparrow, Lian makes her way to Shanghai, hoping to reunite with her mother.
On the journey, Lian learns of the connection between her two companions and a tale from the Library of Legends, The Willow Star and the Prince. Learning Shao and Sparrow’s true identities compels Lian to confront her feelings for Shao. But there are broader consequences too, for as the ancient books travel across China, they awaken immortals and guardian spirits to embark on an exodus of their own, one that changes the country’s fate forever.
Based on true events, rich in Chinese history and lore, The Library of Legends is both an illuminating exploration of China’s recent past and an evocative tale of love, sacrifice, and the extraordinary power of storytelling.
The approaching aircraft were too far away for Lian to tell whether they were Chinese or Japanese. A moment later, she didn’t need to guess. The spiraling wail of sirens churned the air. Then the bombs began falling, like beads slipping off a necklace.
She had been on her way to the train station. She’d gotten off the rickshaw to buy a steamed bun for breakfast. Now she stood outside the bakery as though rooted to the pavement, uncertain what to do. The nearest air-raid shelter was two blocks away, across from the railway station, its entrance already besieged. Even if she were willing to abandon her wicker suitcase, she would never reach the shelter in time.
A strong hand gripped her arm and yanked her through the bakery door.
“Get to the back room,” the baker growled. But she shook her head and dashed out, struggling back with the heavy suitcase. She had to save her books.
Inside, the baker and his wife were throwing damp cloths over trays of buns. He pointed to a storage room built against the back of the kitchen, sacks of flour stacked against one wall. The couple joined four small children squeezed together against the sacks. Lian hesitated, then slid her wicker suitcase under a worktable. But before she could run to the storage room, a shrill whistling pierced her eardrums, followed by the sound of explosions. The floor shuddered. Next she heard the sharp, rhythmic report of antiaircraft guns.
There was a roar of sound and then the world went silent.
LIAN HAD LEFT Minghua University early that morning, spending precious coins from her small cache to ride on a rickshaw that jounced its way through congested streets. Rickshaws and handcarts, handbarrows, wagons, and the occasional automobile. Nanking was evacuating. Every vehicle was piled high with trunks, sacks of food, furniture, and people. Invalids and the elderly, mothers holding children. Their expressions ranged from anxious to stoic.
Her own appearance, Lian hoped, signaled maturity and reserve, enough to dissuade the attentions of hawkers, pickpockets, and talkative fellow travelers. She’d pulled her hair into a tight knot, the severe style offsetting her least-favorite feature, a small chin that made her seem years younger than nineteen. At least her navy-blue Minghua blazer proclaimed her of university age.
The Japanese had yet to bomb the city’s outlying districts. Minghua University’s campus lay southwest of Nanking and was a haven compared to the frenzied scene around the railway station. The university had begun emptying bit by bit as nervous parents instructed their children to come home.
Lian’s home was Peking, where her mother lived. But Peking had been taken by the enemy earlier that month. She’d been frantic for her mother’s safety until a much-delayed letter arrived. Inside, her mother had tucked in money for Lian’s train fare. Peking was already lost when her mother wrote that letter. The Chinese army was in retreat and the Japanese were marching in.