The paperback edition of Emily Hahn’s novel, Miss Jill from Shanghai, is billed on the cover as “a beautiful girl’s story of salvation and sin in the Orient”. Jill was an Australian woman who became romantically involved with a married Japanese aristocrat. Her own parents never married and she felt “degraded beyond imagination” by her family background. When she traveled to Shanghai, she was sold into a house of prostitution.
“How,” starts the marketing literature for Noorjahan Bose’s recent autobiography, “does a girl from a tiny Bangladeshi island end up reading Tagore, Marx and de Beauvoir and become a leading feminist campaigner?” How indeed?
By any measure, Jewish American writer-cum-Shanghai-based salonnière Bernardine Szold Fritz (1896-1982) led an extraordinary life. Whether on familiar terms with American writers of the Lost Generation (Gertrude Stein, Ernest Hemingway) and French modernist masters (Jean Cocteau, Pablo Picasso) in and around Paris, or influential Chinese writers and intellectuals during 1930s Shanghai (Lin Yutang, Hu Shi), or even A-list celebrities from Hollywood’s Golden Age (Gary Cooper, Frank Capra), Fritz was remarkably well-connected.
The railroads, San Francisco Chinatown, the Chinese Exclusion Act, laundries, restaurants: just when you thought there was nothing more to be written about the story of Chinese immigration to America, along comes Hugo Wong with an absorbing account of his families’ history in Mexico. Wong is a scion of two of Mexico’s erstwhile most important and successful Chinese families, but whose stories have largely been forgotten. Both the remembering and the forgetting contain important lessons.
In 1868, as now, the Middle East seemed to be a place where fortunes could be made from the region’s mineral resources and from its central location between Europe and India. The Persian empire was slowly recovering from decades of invasion, civil war, banditry, and plagues. A new monarch, Naseroddin Shah, made a good impression in the capitals of Europe, which he visited frequently beginning in 1873. Yet “the well-protected realm” remained mysterious. A lack of information about its people and geography challenged international investors, who still relied on John Chardin’s accounts of 150 years earlier. They were greedy for up-to-date insights into the country. Albert Houtum Schindler was their providential man.
Yunte Huang writes in his new book of a meeting between Anna May Wong and Sir Robert Ho Tung in Hong Kong. What started with a gathering at Ho Tung’s estate on the Peak quickly turned into a miniature biography of Ho Tung himself, the son of a Dutch Jewish father and Chinese mother. In this account, Huang writes of Ho Tung’s half-brother, a man with twelve wives and more than thirty children. One of these children was a woman named Grace Ho. This account appears to be a little slice of Hong Kong history, fascinating and not atypical of the mixing of families in the earlier years of the British colony. But then Huang writes that Grace Ho was the mother of Bruce Lee, an actor who, like Ho Tung’s guest, Anna May Wong, was slighted by Hollywood.
In Anarchy or Chaos, Ole Birk Laursen sets out to bring the life and intellectual contributions of MPT Acharya, a relatively unknown yet vitally important Indian revolutionary, to a wider audience. This biography delves into Acharya’s involvement in nationalism, anticolonialism, revolution, and anarchism, drawing extensively from memoirs, letters, newspapers, and intelligence reports. The result is a remarkable and comprehensive portrayal of a man, for whom much of his life was spent at the centre of major radical activity.