With this adventurous, neo-historical Tale of Two Cities linking the Tien'anmen Massacre of 1989 and the Kobe Earthquake of 1995 through a daring international love affair, acclaimed author Noboru Tsujihara takes a leap from "high literature" to popular entertainment.
The story begins in 1990, with Kobe-born think-tank director Akihiko Waki hearing a rumor that his "long dead" father, Tanehiko Waki, might still be alive in China. Catching a steamer from Kobe to Shanghai?a rare thing for a lone Japanese in this day and age?Akihiko visits the film studio where his father worked as an extra during the Japanese occupation before repatriating to Kobe. The official line goes that Tanehiko returned to Liberated China in 1955, ostensibly on business, and was arrested as a spy and executed after relations with the Japanese soured in 1958. Much to the son's surprise, however, he learns that his father led a double life; known in China as Han Lanyuan, the "Chinese Buster Keaton" and star of over a dozen films, he actually had returned to China to try to rescue his Chinese lover, Ting Pingru, herself sentenced to execution as a spy, but then disappeared without a trace. Word is that the father, possibly a double agent, was recently found hiding out in the caves of the Huangdu highlands and arrested. Akihiko pulls every string via the film studios to try to get permission to go see for himself, but the infamous Chinese bureaucracy places obstacle after obstacle in his way.
Meanwhile, however, Akihiko finds himself mysteriously drawn to an actress he has met, Li Xing, who was an undercover activist in the pro-democracy movement?which means that now, after Tien'anmen, she will be hunted down by the authorities. The two fall in love, and she takes refuge in his international hotel room before police searches force them to flee, only to be separated in Nanxiang. An utterly dejected Akihiko returns to Japan alone, with neither father nor lover.
Five years later, Akihiko invites Li Xing, who has come to Japan as the wife of the Chinese consul, to view the puppet theater on Awaji Island. After a night together there, early the next morning they encounter the Great Hanshin Earthquake. The two of them barely manage to get back to Kobe, then wander the ruined streets in search of a safe haven.
Tsujihara's intimate and authoritative knowledge of China and his consummate authorial style combine to make this book a rewarding and gripping read.