06 May / The Library of Legends by Janie Chang [in Booklist]
They dubbed themselves the Minghua 123: 114 students and nine professors (plus 16 uncounted servants-laborers). In 1937, to escape the Japanese onslaught, they flee their university in Nanking to seek refuge a thousand miles westward. Saving their lives includes safeguarding 147 volumes of the Library of Legends, a priceless, 500-year-old Ming Dynasty collection of myths and folklore. Lian bears an additional burden that must remain secret: her late father was wrongfully labeled a Japanese collaborator. When murder, arrest, and betrayal disrupt the journey, Lian realizes staying with the group is riskier than venturing alone. A wealthy heir and his enigmatic servant insist on accompanying her toward Shanghai, still an international haven, for now.
Despite an intriguing premise, Chang’s meandering third novel ultimately disappoints. That said, groupies will relish the wink-wink recognition of characters from Three Souls (2014) and Dragon Springs Road (2017), and history aficionados will appreciate the Chang family-inspired true stories, including war-necessitated exoduses of Chinese university students, the guardianship of literary treasures, and the little girl who walked into battle on her soldier-father’s shoulders.