Perhaps no place was more important to Melville Jacoby than the city of Chongqing, China (then known to westerners as Chungking). After Japan conquered China's coast and major cities such as Nanjing, Beijing, Shanghai and Wuhan, the Chinese government was forced to flee up the Yangtze river to Chongqing, where it transformed what had been something of a backwater into China's wartime capital. As I wrote in Eve of a Hundred Midnights, which was published last month, Chongqing was "simultaneously brand-new and decrepit. Fast becoming the 'most bombed' city in the world, it was also the epicenter of the country for any serious journalist." It was squalid, dangerous and extremely uncomfortable, yet, somehow, irresistible, as Mel attested:
“Few foreigners desert Chungking without wanting to return," Mel wrote. “The set formula is to tell friends in Hong Kong what a hell-hole they are missing, and then to rush right back on the next plane loaded with only thirty pounds of clothes and bare essentials.”
As you can see in the following photos, Chongqing was a place of extensive striving and, after years and years of bombing -- during his stints there in 1940 and 1941 Mel experienced 168 air raids -- deeply scarred yet incredibly resilient. I recently browsed Mel's photos again to share at my book readings (please get in touch if you'd like to host me in your community) that he saw these characteristics in Chongqing, and I've chosen the following photos to illustrate some of the contrasts of life in the city that Mel documented:
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After spending four years with the research, writing and re-writing that shaped this book, I feel sometimes as if I've lived in Melville Jacoby's shoes. At least, I feel as if I've seen the world through his eyes. His letters describe what he witnessed and experienced in China and the Philippines in such depth that as I read them, I feel my legs straining up and down Chongqing's steep hills, that I hear the thud of bombs raining upon an air raid shelter, and that my heart beats in anticipation as my fiancée lands in the Manila Bay barely a week before Pearl Harbor.
Beyond these letters, though, Mel took hundreds, if not thousands, of photographs, most of which have ended up in my hands. Unfortunately, I was only able to include a handful in my book. While I chose compelling photos, they were mostly limited to photos that portrayed Mel, Annalee and the people they knew. However, I knew readers who enjoy the book would also want to see more of the world and the era Mel did.
If you like these photos, please keep on eye on this web site and let me know what you think. I'm going to continue to share glimpses of what Mel saw here. Unless otherwise noted, the photos you will see in this series were all shot by Melville Jacoby and provided courtesy of Peggy Stern Cole, Mel's cousin and my grandmother.
Meanwhile, if you haven't already, please head to one of the booksellers listed here or your favorite bookstore to pick up Eve of a Hundred Midnights. If you like it, would you rate it on Goodreads, Amazon, Powell's, or wherever you purchased it? Customer reviews will make the difference in ensuring the book is seen by as many people as possible.