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JOURNEY TO A WAR By W. H. Auden & Christopher Isherwood (Paragon House: $12.95, illustrated)

September 09, 1990|CHARLES SOLOMON

Commissioned by their publishers to write a travel book, Christopher Isherwood and W. H. Auden traveled to China in 1938 to observe the Sino-Japanese War. The writers make only brief mentions of their interviews with Generalissimo and Madame Chiang Kai-shek and Chou En-Lai, unaware of the crucial roles their subjects would play in the postwar world. But the errors and evils of 19th-Century European policy toward China are summarized in Isherwood's devastating account of the artificial splendor of the foreign enclave in Shanghai, separated by an unbridgeable social gap from the harsh realities of the occupied city. Auden uses the occupation of Shanghai as a metaphor for the savagery of all warfare in a sonnet cycle and commentary in verse that damns the Japanese as invaders "Who even to themselves deny a human freedom,/ And dwell in the estranging tyrant's vision of the earth/ In a calm stupor under their blood spotted flag."

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