"I just can't possibly write now. Perhaps a little later after bombing season." Three quarters of a century ago, today, Melville Jacoby took a brief break from his radio broadcasts for NBC, his writing and photography for Time and Life magazines, and his chaotic search for a panda -- yes, a panda -- to write to his mother and stepfather about life in wartime Chungking, or Chongqing, then the capital of China.
After spending four years with the research, writing and re-writing that shaped Eve of a Hundred Midnights, 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. 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.
Most of my posts about Melville Jacoby focus squarely on nonfiction. He was a journalist. I am a journalist. Though Mel worked for a time as a broadcaster and was handy with a camera, he was first and foremost a writer. So it shouldn't be terribly surprising that he dabbled in fiction a bit. I found one of those stories — "Monsieur Big-Hat" — and put it together with some photos Mel took of an air raid in Chongqing to make a short ebook that's now available online. The story describes what happens when an American correspondent meets a French diplomat as bombs fall on the Chinese wartime capital in June, 1940.