Despite the growing tensions between China and the West, one East-West relationship has endured with a continuing mutual fascination: that of Jews and Chinese, one increasingly reflected in literature and film. In particular, the story of the Shanghai Jewish refugees has enjoyed a resurgence over the past decade; Kirsty Manning’s novel, The Song of the Jade Lily, is one of the latest examples.
There always comes a time when, as people age, events move from being “within living memory” to “history”. There is even more urgency to capture these voices in a place like China where, for reasons of war and turmoil, fewer voices were, on the whole, captured at the time.
Despite the not-entirely-rare memoirs, novels, and narratives about Jewish refugees in Shanghai during World War II, it remains a little-known corner of history. Juliet Conlin’s new novel tells a story of two of them.
If there is a place and time in China that appeals to English readers more others, it’s pre-1949 Shanghai. The Paris of the East, Queen of the Orient, and the City that Never Sleeps are just a few of its monikers from the 1920s until late 1940s. Because 70 to 80 years has passed since then, fewer and fewer people are around to share stories from that era.