No, this is not a hastily written novel about Covid-19. It is a big, sprawling, angry novel that was started well before the pandemic and recalls Wuhan’s other claim to fame as the place where the Japanese invasion of China in 1937 met with its first serious reverse.
Wuhan is divided into three parts, which Fletcher originally intended as separate books. ‘The Road to Wuhan’ follows the flight of the refugees before the Japanese advance, which I found the most powerful and harrowing part of the book. It is seen through the eyes of a peasant farmer and his handicapped daughter, a difficult feat for a western author, which Fletcher carries off convincingly. ‘Wuhan’ contains the battle scenes, and ‘The Road from Wuhan’ centres mainly on the colourful group of foreigners who reported on the war and sometimes became caught up in it. Several different stories are woven together, and the cast of characters is immense.
This is a very committed book, angry at Europe and America’s indifference to China’s suffering, shocked by the savagery of the conflict, awed by the resilience of the Chinese people. This is where WW2 began, years before the war reached Europe.
An epic book about an epic conflict. Don’t miss it.