Mones, Nicole. Night in Shanghai. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014. 978-0547516172. 288 p. $25.00. Gr. 9+
Night in Shanghai tells the story of expatriate Jazz musicians living in China prior to the start of World War II and life in Shanghai before and after the Japanese takeover of the city. The story begins with African American piano player Thomas Greene arriving in Shanghai after being recruited by Lin Ming to lead a Jazz orchestra that plays in a club owned by Lin’s father Du Yuesheng, a notorious crime boss in Shanghai. Soon, Thomas becomes enamored with the lovely and passionate Communist Song Yuhua, who was sold to Du to repay her father’s debts. As long as Song is still a possession of Du’s, however, Thomas cannot be seen with her. Surrounding their love story is the contentious atmosphere in China during the Japanese invasion and the beginning of Hitler’s conquests in Europe. Many musicians begin to flee as the Japanese take over, but they are replaced by Jews fleeing from Nazi controlled countries in Europe. This story of star-crossed lovers gives an interesting and sometimes little known (to American students) depiction of the turmoil in China during the 1930s and 1940s. The cosmopolitan and diverse city of Shanghai is highlighted throughout, and some of the most enjoyable scenes are in the Jazz nightclubs and hotels, where the music is given center stage. The novel also provides a non-Western view of the Holocaust, since the author includes real events and people in her novel, and describes in detail the actions of one Chinese diplomat who risked his life to save many Jews. Recommend this story to young musicians who enjoy historical novels, or those who want to know more about the influence of the Holocaust in non-European countries.
Historical Fiction (China WWII) Lindsey Myers, Peters Township HS
I picked up this book for two reasons: one, because it was a historical fiction and this genre is generally my go-to for summer reading; and two, because it incorporated an area of history that I am not that familiar with, that of the lives of Jazz musicians in China during the 1930s. I absolutely love getting lost in an historical fiction book during the summer, and flying away to different eras and times. While this title was not the best book I read this summer, it is definitely an interesting story that should appeal to a variety of students. It is not marketed as a YA book but has clear appeal to this population.
The story does start off a little slow, but once WWII begins and the main characters have more contact with each other and we learn more about each of them, about their hopes and dreams, and passions, the plot moves quickly. I have to note that my favorite parts of the book involved references and stories relating to the Holocaust. It was interesting to learn how the Jewish population was assisted by some Chinese diplomats and how many Jews were actually saved. The author includes an afterword detailing historical moments and characters, and the extensive research that she completed for the novel.
Our Honors English 10 students must all read one historical fiction novel as an independent reading selection, and I am excited to share this title with them. I often have musicians asking for interesting stories that incorporate music or depict the lives of famous musicians, or students interested in learning more about the Holocaust. And, this novel is not as lengthy as many historical fiction novels, so that is a big bonus with students as well! I look forward to reading other titles by this author.