Launchpad: The Library of Legends, by Janie Chang

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This spring we've made it our mission (even more than usual) to celebrate new releases in the wake of cancelled launch parties, book festivals, and reading series. With 49th Shelf Launchpad, we're holding virtual launch parties here on our platform complete with witty banter and great insight to give you a taste of the books on offer. You can request these books from your local library, get them as e-books or audio books, order them from your local indie bookseller if they're delivering, buy them direct from the publisher or from online retailers.

Today we're launching The Library of Legends, by bestselling author Janie Chang, which Kate Quinn calls, "a gorgeous, poetic journey threaded with mist and magic."

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Book Cover The Library of Legends

The Elevator Pitch. Tell us about your book in a sentence.

Set in 1937 China, it’s about students from a university escaping war while protecting a priceless collection of books, with political intrigue, romance, betrayal and mythology thrown in.

Describe your ideal reader:

Loves Masterpiece Theatre, historical novels featuring female protagonists, prosecco, and cats.

What authors/books is your work in conversation with:

Geraldine Brooks, Yangsze Choo, Lisa See. Isabel Allende if I could avoid stammering in her presence.

What is something interesting you learned about your book/yourself/your subject during the process of creating and publishing your book?

Before this, it never occurred to me how much the topic under research could affect an author’s moods. Surely research was the academic, therefore objective, part of work. It’s the author’s job to bring emotion to the page. In The Library of Legends, the university evacuates the city of Nanking by page 24, so the story sidesteps the worst of the Japanese occupation. But even just the peripheral research was enough to put me in a spiral of despair over what human beings can do and justify doing. This made me realize I had to avoid writing too much about the brutalities of war, because I didn’t want readers to go down a similar spiral of despair. 

When you were researching this book, did you come across anything that made you change your story or see it differently?

The historic setting for the novel—university campuses fleeing the war—never changed. But once I read about a university that carried a priceless set of Qing dynasty encyclopedias with them on their evacuation, I knew right away this was the thread I needed to bind the story together. Those books became the Library of Legends and it wasn’t a big step from there to write about a parallel evacuation of the mythical creatures described in the Library. The Library is such a strong symbol and its journey an allegory of the irreversible changes sweeping through China.

An important part of any book launch are the thank you’s. Go ahead, and acknowledge someone whose support has been integral to this project.

There are factors under your control, such as the quality and quantity of writing that gets done. But you also need time and head space to get writing done at all. So thank you to my husband Geoff, who took over making dinner during the critical months of this project and the Canada Council, whose support allowed me the time and head space to write this novel.

What are you reading right now or next?

I just finished Salma the Syrian Chef, by Danny Ramadan; The War Widow, by Tara Moss; and will be starting on Danielle Graham’s novel All We Could Not Leave Behind, about a wartime romance on the West Coast of BC that’s disrupted by the Japanese internment. And I like reading cookbooks before going to bed because its calming and I enjoy food porn. The Buddhist Chef, by Quebec’s Jean-Phillippe Cyr is the current one.

 

 

About The Library of Legends:

From the author of Three Souls and Dragon Springs Road comes a captivating historical novel in which a convoy of student refugees travel across China, fleeing the hostilities of a brutal war with Japan

 “Myths are the darkest and brightest incarnations of who we are . . .”

China, 1937. When Japanese bombs begin falling on the city of Nanking, nineteen-year-old Hu Lian and her classmates at Minghua University are ordered to flee. Lian and a convoy of students, faculty and staff must walk 1,000 miles to the safety of China’s western provinces, a journey marred by the constant threat of aerial attack. And it is not just the refugees who are at risk; Lian and her classmates have been entrusted with a priceless treasure: a 500-year-old collection of myths and folklore known as the Library of Legends.

The students’ common duty to safeguard the Library of Legends creates unexpected bonds. Lian becomes friends and forms a cautious romance with the handsome and wealthy Liu Shaoming. But after one classmate is arrested and another one is murdered, Lian realizes she must escape before a family secret puts her in danger too. Accompanied by Shao and his enigmatic maidservant, Sparrow, Lian makes her way to Shanghai in the hopes of reuniting with her mother.

During the journey, Lian learns of the connection between her two companions and a tale from the Library of Legends, The Willow Star and the Prince. This revelation comes with profound consequences, for as the ancient books travel across China, they awaken immortals and guardian spirits who embark on an exodus of their own, one that will change the country’s fate forever.

April 29, 2020
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