Riveting account of a family who fled the Nazis only to endure further persecution in Shanghai.
Characterizing her work—winner of the Canadian Jewish Book Award—as “a memoir in the creative non-fiction genre,” the author, who was born in Shanghai and now lives in Canada, tells the story in the voice of her mother, Nini Karpel, the youngest daughter of a prosperous and patriotic Viennese department-store owner. Her father died suddenly in 1922 when Nini was six, leaving her mother responsible for the business as well as their four children. Life went on more or less as usual, but the political situation was of increasing concern. In 1936, Nini fell in love with Poldi Kosiner, the son of Polish refugees, but he could find work only in Italy, and they had to continue their romance by correspondence. When the Nazis annexed Austria in 1938, the Karpels were immediately affected by the new anti-Jewish laws; their business and assets were seized, relatives were beaten, and they feared for their lives. Learning that refugees were welcome in Shanghai, Nini, acting on her own, approached a gentile lawyer, who bought their tickets for the long voyage to China. Her courageous initiative helped save her mother and siblings; with travel arrangements in place, the Karpels were able to obtain exit visas. Once in Shanghai, a place quite unlike any they had ever known, they were joined by Poldi, who came overland. Richly evoking the city’s sights and smells, Nini’s narrative details their struggle to find work; the arrival of the Japanese, who made Jews live in Shanghai’s rundown Hongkew section; the brief interlude of peace and prosperity when the war finally ended; and then the Communist takeover that made it impossible for the family to remain in China. Kaplan closes with their 1949 arrival in Toronto.
A moving and memorable portrayal of a less familiar aspect of the Jewish plight during WWII.