[Partly, Fortress Besieged is] about courtship and marriage—a disenchanted look at the mating habits of the new, Western-educated, "liberated" Chinese of the 1930s and 1940s: the first generation who could freely choose, in some cases only to find that they were worse off in the outcome than their parents. But it is much more than that. It is also a portrait—an intelligent, merciless, mocking, often wildly funny one—of a society approaching collapse….
The novel is set in the period just before and just after the beginning of the war in China. It follows the fortunes (or rather misfortunes) of Fang Hung-chien, an intelligent, easy-going, well-meaning but unlucky and rather weak young man …; his return to China aboard a French liner from dilettantish studies in three European capitals, armed with a fake diploma obtained postally from a crooked Irishman in New York; his arrival in Shanghai where he is offered lodgings and a job in a bank by his deceased fiancée's father; the outbreak of the war; the bombing-out of his family …; a nightmarish journey into the interior in the company of several other appointees to a third-rate provincial academy; his experiences there with the appalling students and even more appalling staff …; his return, via Hongkong, to Shanghai with an unwanted wife; the miseries and humiliations of matrimony …; and finally the break-up, after one scene too many, the supperless return to a cold and empty flat, and the waking up in darkness—on the bed on which he...
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