From Publishers Weekly
For a brief period between 1938 and 1941, roughly 20,000 Jews found refuge from the Nazis in the one place not requiring visas, police certificates or proofs of financial independence: Shanghai. In this spellbinding memoir, Kaplan recounts her family's transition from the "delight" of Vienna to "a mysterious blob on the map, China." Writing in a fictional present tense, Kaplan narrates this evocative, moving saga in the voice of her mother, Nini. The halcyon early years of cafes and skiing end as the Nazis rise to power. Still, in 1936 when Nini meets her future husband, Poldi, a Polish refugee, she is "adamant that [persecution of Jews] could never happen here." It does. By 1939, her family will make the month-long, 7,000-mile journey to Shanghai. Amid "pervasive poverty... overpowering heat... [and] strange faces," Nini and Poldi find an anxious and precarious normality, but after Pearl Harbor, they struggle terribly. With the war's end comes the shock of learning what became of family and friends left behind in Europe. Although Vienna is rebuilt and a daughter (the author) is born, Communist troops arrive, and Nini and Poldi move again, this time to Canada. Kaplan's intimate knowledge of her parents' story makes it seem as if she experienced it herself, and her remarkable achievement will make readers feel that way, too.
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Nini Karpel, her ailing mother, and her young brother left Vienna in 1939 after Germany invaded Austria, fleeing to Shanghai, China, then occupied by Japan--a month-long, 7,000-mile trip across the Pacific. Kaplan, who was born in Shanghai, has written this memoir in the first-person voice of her mother, Nini Karpel, who married Poldi Kosiner there in 1940. By listening to her mother's retelling of the events, Kaplan became familiar with the story. She describes the voyage, first impressions of the city and the ghetto of Hongkew, missing baggage that was never found, coolies working as beasts of burden, and seeing the severed heads of Chinese who were captured by their Japanese enemies. They faced disease, hunger, poverty, and fear; they enjoyed their reunion with other family members; and they were pressured by nuns to convert to the Catholic faith. The family moved to Canada in 1949. Kaplan has written a remarkably vivid and richly detailed account of Jewish refugees struggling to stay alive. George CohenCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved