For a change, I am going to avoid the usual introduction bit that I do on my posts and jump right in – The prompt I chose for February was ‘A Fantasy Novel by an Asian Author’ and the number of suggestions that popped up on Goodreads was mind blowing.
However, there’s always something special about Books that focus on Books and Libraries, and when I read the blurb, I simply knew I had to pick The Library of Legends.
With it I discovered the marvellous talent of Janie Chang, and also delved a little deeper into the second Sino-Japanese war, a chapter of history I wasn’t too aware of previous to this.
The Library of Legends – Janie Chang
When countries go to war with each other, destroying universities, libraries and book collections has always been the most effective way to ensure cultures and with that cultural identities are destroyed, in some cases completely obliterated.
There are always a few brave souls though, who have a way of showing quiet defiance – and this forms the central theme of Janie Chang’s The Library of Legends.
Inspired by true stories and set in 1937 – 38, The Library of Legends starts with a grim scene showing the aftermath of an air raid and Lian – our protagonist – ensuring that she saves her books from the bombing and following chaos.
It sets the tone just right, as we slowly get to know Lian and her classmates, all students at the Nanking University, who now have to turn refugees in their own country, as they begin the long trek to safety, away from the war front.
However, it’s not just their education and lives that they are safeguarding, but an invaluable treasure – the last surviving volume of The Library of Legends which contain all the stories and history of Chinese Culture, Mythology and Folklore. And although there are new copies in circulation, Nanking University has been the sole guardian of the original manuscripts.
As the Legends make their way ‘on foot, in handcarts and on backs’, the magical powers they carry awaken the Gods and Guardian spirits, who have to begin an exodus of their own.
Will the Legends and the deities survive the war?
Janie Chang writes beautifully, in a lyrical prose that draws you in as she sets up a rich and vivid image of China. I especially loved how she portrayed the grim realities of the war, without letting it become too gory, thereby striking that delicate balance between focussing on the war and the subsequent rise of communism, along with the magical elements of the story. It could have gone either way, but it didn’t and right until the very end, she keeps you hanging onto every word and every detail.
On a lighter note, I also got a serious craving for dumplings 🙂
On a personal level, I am rather glad I found this book, since a number of ‘wartime books’ I’ve read have always focussed on Europe during WW2, and the Library of Legends manages to present to us a chapter of history little known outside of China.
Through this magical tale, we learn the true stories of students who risked their lives safeguarding books and the reverence that Chinese culture has towards education. Being an Indian, and being brought up in a family that upholds knowledge and learning above all else, this part of the book really struck a personal chord, and made me marvel at and respect the quiet bravery of these students and their professors.
So, if you want to lose yourself in a magical tale full of books and celestial beings, The Library of Legends is recommended to be placed very high up on your TBR. Happy Reading!
Reading Women Challenge Summary – Prompts completed 3/24
- A Book with a Rural Setting
- A Book with a Cover designed by a Woman
- A Fantasy Novel by an Asian Author