Canton Elegy (A True Story)

My very good friend, the sizzling Ros Milani, who once upon a time worked with me on many a project to do with luxury goods, sent me a most engrossing book about a father’s letter of sacrifice, survival and love.

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Canton Elegy, just out, is set against the backdrop of the events that shaped China in the twentieth century – the Chinese civil war, the Second World War, and the Cultural Revolution.

It is a love story punctuated by numerous adventures and an intimate and gruelling portrait of a family bound together by devotion as they struggled to survive against unthinkable odds. With his wife Belle and their four young children, Stephen Jin-Nom Lee braves famine and flood, corruption and the devastation of war, to make a home and a life for the ones he holds dear. From the three-hundred-mile journey Belle undertakes on foot when she and the children are trapped behind enemy lines in Hong Kong, to the night when he stands at his window watching Canton burn, Stephen observes his world with an artist’s sensibility, pouring out his emotions with a torrent of anguish and yet is able to tell the family’s story with great tenderness and without rancour – all so that his children may understand their history and remember their father’s love.

Looking across the years towards a time when he himself will be gone and their own lives may be drawing to a close he articulates his desire simply and powerfully: ‘I want my heart to have a voice so that I can love you louder.’

It is a book full of pathos, of a litany of tragic events of a determination to overcome the bestiality and ravages of a cruel and senseless war, and of an everlasting example of a family whose faith in love and unity surpass anything I have experienced or seen before.

Although at times I felt deeply overcome by its painful narrative, I was nevertheless elated at the end to realise that the dark clouds on the horizon gave way to clearer skies and a promise of a better future.

An unputdownable book for those who believe in the power of love and the human capacity to survive the convolutions of time.

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