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I have been all over the map with this book First of all, particularly in the first half of the book, I found the writing confusing Here is an example of what you will have to contend with The days and months flowed by heavily and monotonously, with no news from Elisabeth in contrast to normal prisons with legal regulations, here correspondence was forbidden , and the hour long morning and evening roll calls, always with the small three times cursed pastry shop and the constantly perfected art of not stirring up in Hansi Steinbrenner the desire to hit you on the back with his club to the exact rhythm of the tango page 79 This is one sentence, and it composes one paragraph It is too long and parts are nonsensical I am not sure who is at fault, the author or the translator There are numerous such sentences that make reading difficult, understanding compromised and enjoyment impossible Repeatedly words are placed in the wrong order, particularly adverbs Sure, you do understand what is being said, but the natural flow of words is disrupted For me, who particularly seeks a book that is well written, this detracts from the quality of the book I am forced to only read this for what happens The focus must be on the plot alone So what is the book about During the Second World War, when all countries were closing their doors to the Jews, the only place left for many was Shanghai This book deals with life there in Shanghai, particularly the life of the Jewish migr s In 1937 the Japanese took control and soon the migr Jews from Germany and Austria found themselves restricted to a ghetto in Hongku, a suburb of Shanghai Life there was unimaginably horrible overcrowded, rife with filth, vermin and disease But Shanghai was a city of extremes There too were found the luxurious quarters of the International Concessions This book deals with life here in this city This is interesting, and this is what kept me reading.The author certainly incorporates humor into the book Humor can be so varied does this amuse you Mr Vincent Vladek has been summoned to the office of Lord Washburn The lord s secretary begins Mister Vincent, it s none of my business, but may I allow myself to draw your attention to the fact that Lord Washburn is not accustomed to a lack of punctuality on the part of his subordinates Mr Vincent was surprised in turn Subordinates, did you say Oh, subordinates Look now, young lady, I am not a subordinate of the lord s for three reasons At least three First, because I am not a soldier in Her Majesty s colonial army, but a freelance journalist Second, I m not an English subject, but through a lucky coincidence Swiss And third, as a rule I subordinate myself to nothing and no one apart from the laws of my canton They have their own state laws, in case you haven t heard page 221 The meeting continues He ordered you to appear before him immediately This, I hope, doesn t violate the laws of your canton And please keep it short because he has another meeting And the secretary in order to be convincing, looked at her watch again before ushering him into the office of the lord..The man who had just come in introduced himself cheerfully Jean Loup Vincent, sir At your service With the self assurance of a general who doesn t shake hands with lowly privates just like that, Lord Washburn declined the proffered hand His own hands crossed behind his back, he looked with curiosity at the ragged Swiss with the unbuttoned shirt and rolled up sleeves stopping with surprise at the latter s enormous thick soled boots Vladek followed his eyes and lent over to admire in turn his boots for a moment Ah, my boots, great aren t they From the Spanish Republican Army For two years I marched as a correspondent with them from Gibraltar to the Pyrenees and in spite of everything they are still like new You ll die laughing but during the bombing of Madrid The lord interrupted him I have not invited you to tell me the story of your boots Oh really, then how can I be of use to you pages 222 223 Often the humor is ironic in tone After Pearl Harbor, the following is noted To believe that it was only Washington that had the bad habit of rejecting every piece of information contrary to its preconceptions about the world is than naive French nonchalance, which almost bordered on treason despite precise information gathered by agents about Hitler s real plans, proves the point as well No one s lunch in Paris was spoiled even when reports started flowing in that suddenly thousands of German tourists were pouring into Luxembourg and spreading tents all along the French border No one bothered to talk to even one of these German nature lovers and to inquire a bit further about what they were doing there and why they preferred border landscapes to all others And what about sleepy head Moscow, carelessly ignoring intelligence from the Ramsay group, which together with other reliable sources in Europe, kept issuing warnings about impending German aggression against the Soviet Union.But the Kremlin masters had their own views on the matter, preferring to contemplate their own navels rather than listen to unpleasant news pages 242 243 History is served with humor and irony This I enjoy At the same time I had a hard time understanding parts Was it the writing or was it my stupidity I do not know The spy details left me confused It is important to note that they play a significant role in the plot Nowhere in the book s description is it said that his is a spy novel I personally do not enjoy spy intrigues Please, do not consider this book if you do not like spy novels.Finally, by the end of the novel, I grew to care for the principal characters I did, but it certainly took a while and some of the plot twists are implausible What happens to the principle protagonists is overblown, too exciting, too amazing and too melodramatic The plot is made for the movies Do you like that kind of book I don t, but maybe the book will fit you perfectly My last complaint is that there is an exceedingly short author s note at the end The story is based on true events and people, mixed with fiction One character is a composite of several real people I would have preferred a detailed explanation of what was true and what was fiction Given my personal preferences, I cannot give this book than two stars If you are curious about Shanghai during the war, I would instead recommend Shanghai Diary A Young Girl s Journey from Hitler s Hate to War Torn China Now that was my kind of book My review One of the best books I ve read lately. I really wanted to love this novel, BUTIt was mostly non fiction with a tiny bit of novel Much of that was based upon real people and as fictional characters, they were poorly developed How much better it would have been if the author had written a straight non fiction book I chose this book because the subject was totally new to me and I thought I would learn something The book was mostly fact, but much of that material was added to flesh out the novel so it was not as cohesive as it could and should have been In other words, way too much background material for a novel and too much fiction for a non fiction book.But I did learn a lot, and the subject matter is shocking and so sad Shanghai was not the refuge for Jews that I and the refugees thought it would be.The translation is good and the style probably follows the author s actual Bulgarian very well. Perhaps the fault that lay with the version I read was its English translation Events were conveyed without sentimentality nor depth Content wise, it was an interesting perspective into WWII history, a subject that has constantly fascinated authors and filmmakers This time I got to know about Shanghai s role in the war, as well as the author s philosophical take on history and perspective taking This book melded both fiction and non fiction, and speculating which parts were based on real characters was a fun exercise I also appreciated the amount of detail given to characters of such different national backgrounds. Selected as a runner up in the 2007 National Jewish Book Award category for fiction.The unforgettable novel of nearly forgotten refugees who fled Nazi Germany and discovered the glamour and excess of Shanghai.Elisabeth and Theodore Weissberg, famous musicians, Hilde, a young film extra, and Vladek, an Eastern European adventurer wanted by the police on political charges, flee Nazi Germany for Shanghai at the onset of World War II A magnet for every human ambition and vice, Shanghai is a city of extremes of dazzling wealth and wretched poverty, suffering and pleasure, and, for the four refugees, exile and safety There, they enter the world of Jewish refugees, many of them artists and intellectuals, who must either starve or eke out an impoverished and sometimes degraded living, but they are determined to live intelligently, upholding the high culture, humor, and even, insofar as they can, the elegance of their former lives Master storyteller Angel Wagenstein crafts an intense narrative of life and death, passionate love, and profound courage against the backdrop of the war and the millions of lives caught up in it. Knowing someone who lived in Shanghai during WWII, and having read at least one other book about Jewish refugees there, I expected better things from this book.I was initially impressed with the style of the writing, and it proved to be a relatively quick read, but ultimately, I didn t find it a satisfying story The characters were not convincing or well developed, and by jumping right into the action and keeping things moving, Wagenstein left out too much detail that might have made the characters inner feelings and motives easier to understand I didn t like the ending, and I felt somewhat cheated Perhaps the fault lies in the fact that Wagenstein took a subject best treated as non fiction and tried writing a novel about it, which resulted in a trivial, contrived story Wagenstein created a book that might work well on the screen, with spies, intrigue, and atmospherics, but he failed to create believable or truly engaging characters, nor to pass the So What test I fear that the story wouldn t stand up in motion picture format, either.To anyone wishing to learn about this fascinating footnote to history, I recommend Ursula Bacon s Shanghai Diary. Chose this from my China shelf Hopefully, it will set the stage for my trip to China this summer.I was surprised at how much I enjoyed this I thought I was satiated with WWII novels, but the setting for this one moves from Paris to Shanghai and deals with a situation I was not very familiar with Shanghai was a free international city during the early years of the war Wagenstein s treatment of the class distinctions between the resident Jews and refugees was intruiging The dilemmas and conflicts of this international city occupied by the Japanese were clearly laid out The love story gave the book continuity and flow And, I had my Shanghai map out the whole time. I could not finish this execrable book The plot is a mish mash of bad WWII movie cliches the hot, blonde Jewess, the Vichy Paris, the bad sex, the hidden identities Every page seems as if it s written to be translated to the screen, but it s so disjointed, the characters make no sense, and so it feels like a regurgitation of images of what a movie about WWII should be like The writing is horrible my first thought when I read it was hmm these sentences do not make sense, it reads like it was translated poorly from the Bulgarian And lo and behold, after reading the back cover, I learned it wastranslated from the Bulgarian. I enjoyed this, but it didn t necessarily focus on the Shanghai ghetto quite as much as it could have That story would have helped to bring all the characters togetherwhich they do, but it seems like 200 pages of the book are involved in getting the characters to the ghetto and then you skip 5 years An odd choice Sometimes the author takes you on a weird tangent, but only for a few pages and then it s back to the story The characters are interesting, I just wish we got to see of them. This was an interesting fictionalization of an aspect of WWII I had no idea about A tragic story with a beautiful atmosphere I only wish the author or translator had been a little explicit about what was fictionalized, and maybe provided some pointers to English language sources Though when I did a little poking around on the Internet, I didn t really come up with much.There s a little discussion of the background here Сбогом, Шанхай

About the Author: Angel Wagenstein

Angel Raymond Wagenstein Bulgarian is a Bulgarian film director and author Wagenstein was born in Plovdiv, Bulgaria, but spent his childhood in France where his Sephardic Jewish family emigrated for political reasons due to their leftist politics.

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