Letter from Chicago: Paragon Book Gallery redux

Paragon

In 1942, Jewish refugee Max Faerber opened Paragon Book Gallery in Shanghai. Faerber had worked for a newspaper in Vienna before he fled the Nazis for the brighter shores of Shanghai. During his first few years in China, Faerber put his newspaper skills to use and managed a German Jewish newspaper, one of many publications produced in the refugee communities in Shanghai. But when the Japanese occupied the whole of Shanghai in December 1941, Max looked for another profession. He turned to bookselling.

Max and Rachel Faeber
Max and Rachel Faerber

His wife Rachel Cohen was born and raised in Shanghai, and was well-connected to the Shanghai Jewish community. The couple was married at Paragon Book Gallery and stayed in Shanghai after the war, until they resettled in New York in 1948. The Faerbers left Shanghai with 15,000 books and relocated their shop to Manhattan. By 1964, the New York Times reported that

 

Max Faerber is mailing the Paragon Book Gallery’s fall catalogue this week to former Premier David Ben‐Gurion of Israel, Ali Bhutto, Foreign Affairs Minister of Pakistan; Paola Cardinal Marella of the Vatican Secretariat for Non-Christian Religions, and hundreds of other notable persons.

 

Paragon became renowned for its extensive collection of Asian book titles and remained in New York until Rachel sold Paragon in 1984 after the shop’s lease expired. Max had passed away in 1979. The shop relocated to Chicago in 1991 and became an online-only store in 2014. Owner Tony Zhu also opened branches in Beijing and Wuzhen, Zhejiang Province.

 

On February 7, Paragon reopened a brick and mortar shop in the Zhou B Art Center in Chicago. The store continues to sell books centered around Asian studies and art, including many first edition and limited edition copies. For instance, the journal T’ien Hsia was published in Shanghai from 1935 to 1937, and Paragon has for sale in its rare book section three copies from early 1936. Some of the contributors of these issues include Lin Yutang, Emily Hahn, playwright HI Hsiung, and Pearl Buck, among others.

This new incarnation of Paragon Book Gallery is a welcome addition to Chicago, which enjoys one of the fastest growing Chinese communities in North America.


Susan Blumberg-Kason is the author of Good Chinese Wife: A Love Affair with China Gone Wrong.