SECRET WAR IN SHANGHAI by Bernard Wasserstein


An Untold Story of Espionage, Intrigue, and Treason in World War II
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            Well-written, well-researched, but ultimately flat look at the covert (and not so covert) activities of the various Axis and Allied powers in Shanghai during WWII, by a dean and chairman of the history department at Brandeis (Vanishing Diaspora:  The Jews in Europe Since 1945, 1996).

            Wasserstein begins his study with a compelling look at Shanghai in the years before the war, a city in which White Russians intermingled with refugee German Jews, Japanese nationalists spied on Chinese Communists, Americans worked with Chinese nationalists, the British (seemingly) worked with and spied on everyone, and countless other nationalities, with their respective agendas, plied the streets.  He then continues the tale as war becomes imminent, with the Japanese quickly changing their role from that of a lesser colonial power in Shanghai to controllers of what was then China’s largest city.  Wasserstein looks at the seamy underside of WWII in Shanghai, a tale full of thieves, thugs, and prostitutes, all for sale to whomever needed their services.  Although the characters Wasserstein depicts are fascinating, the portraits are drawn too briefly, and his descriptions of the actions that took place, mostly of sabotage, killings, and beatings, are so dry as to take all the drama out of them.  Though Wasserstein offers tremendous documentation and seems to have covered every source, ranging from American and British archives to war crimes testimony and Chinese and Japanese primary sources, narrative drive is lacking, as if the author were afraid to draw the reader as far into the historical events as he himself is drawn.

            Colorful material richly researched, but weak in narrative flow.  (photos, not seen)

Pub Date: Sept. 13th, 1999
ISBN: 0-395-98537-4
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15th, 1999


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