Chinese often claim a special relationship, sometimes verging on kinship, with Jews. The origins and reasons remain unclear but it may be at least in part due to two Jewish families—the Sassoons and their rivals, the Kadoories—both of whom played lasting roles in the development of two of China’s most modern cities: Shanghai and its rival, Hong Kong.

Alexandra is a 25-year-old contract tech reporter in the Silicon Valley with a dilemma: should she stay in a job with neither benefits nor prospects, or move to Ithaca, New York with her boyfriend for five years while he pursues a PhD at Cornell? Alexandra Chang’s debut novel, Days of Distraction, is a fictionalized account of her own move to Ithaca for her husband’s graduate work, but, even more, a treatise on Chinese American history, and the racism that runs through it and continues today.   

Twenty-two year-old Ava is a cash-strapped English teacher from Ireland living with roommates who pay less attention to her than the cockroaches in their Hong Kong Airbnb. When Ava meets Julian, a twenty-eight year-old Oxford-educated English banker, her life changes in ways she never imagined. Julian is conservative with expressing his feelings, yet offers his guest room to Ava for free. The two become unlikely friends—and later romantic partners—unlikely not because of their socio-economic disparities, but because they don’t seem to like one another very much.

China’s National Day is a carefully orchestrated occasion. Each year on October 1st, rigorously rehearsed celebrations take place nationwide, with those on Tiananmen Square broadcast live across China. On the decadal anniversary years, the display of pageantry is ramped up further, though these commemorations of Mao Zedong’s announcement on October 1st 1949 that the Chinese people had “stood up” have often been marred by events outside the careful control of the party leadership.

Red Affairs, White Affairs, Felicia Nay (Cinnamon Press, March 2020>
Red Affairs, White Affairs, Felicia Nay (Cinnamon Press, March 2020)

Hong Kong at the beginning of a new millennium—a teeming city where ritual, religion, the spirits of the dead and the spirit of enterprise meet and clash. For Reini “Kim” Kranich, a young German aid worker obsessed with death, Chinese underwear, Emily Dickinson and cockroaches, it’s a place of fragile hopes.