Fragile Cargo: The World War II Race To Save the Treasures of China’s Forbidden City

S. & S. Audio. Feb. 2023. 12:23 hrs. ISBN 9781797148090. $23.99. HIST
After penning the Philip Mangan thrillers, former journalist Brookes offers a riveting account of Chinese archivists’ efforts to protect antiquities from the Forbidden City from destruction during and after World War II. Narrating his own work, Brookes describes how, as Japanese bombs threatened the city in 1933, curators from the Forbidden City’s Palace Museum packed and relocated over one million treasures representing the breadth of China’s cultural history. Later, as tensions between the Nationalists and the Communists escalated, the items were moved once again. Brookes’s brilliant narrative style mirrors his exuberant descriptions of the riches—scrolls, paintings, carvings, porcelain, and more. He also brings the background history to life, focusing on three brave curators and several significant items they saved. Brookes makes palpable the deprivation facing the scholars and potential damage to the cargo as they traverse waters, mountains, rough roads, and war-decimated cities with their pursuers close behind. Each time a solution is suggested, further complications arise, but the guardians persevere. Brookes ably communicates his meticulous research, including memoirs, diaries, and poems.
VERDICT Listeners will be on the edge of their seats as they learn about the heroic efforts of Chinese scholars and curators throughout this 16-year mission.
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