Tuesday, September 24, 2013
It’s 1943 and the Japanese juggernaut has swallowed Shanghai and the rest of eastern China, snaring droves of American and British along with thousands of “stateless” German Jewish refugees. Despite the hostile environs, newlyweds Dr. Franz Adler and his wife, Sunny, adjust to life running the city’s only hospital for refugee Jews.
Bowing to Nazi pressure, the Japanese force twenty thousand Jewish refugees, including the Adlers, to relocate to a one-square-kilometer “Shanghai Ghetto.” Heat, hunger, and tropical diseases are constant threats. But the ghetto also breeds miraculous resilience. Music, theater, sports, and Jewish culture thrive despite what are at times subhuman conditions.
Navigating subversion and espionage, Nazi treachery and ever-worsening conditions while living under the heel of the Japanese military, the Adlers struggle to keep the hospital open and their family safe and united. -- Forge
Last summer, I reviewed THE FAR SIDE OF THE SKY by Daniel Kalla. I was truly impressed with both the story and the writing in this terrific historical fiction book, and I also learned a thing or two about history while reading it. That's always a bonus for someone like me who doesn't appreciate traditional accounts of history.
Not only did I enjoy the novel, but I also came to really like the characters. Because they experienced so much heartache, yet still managed to keep hope, I became rather attached to them. After I finished THE FAR SIDE OF THE SKY, I was still curious about what happened to them -- I had a feeling that there was more to their story. Thankfully, Mr. Kalla revisited Sunny and Franz's story in his second book in the Shanghai series RISING SUN, FALLING SHADOW.
RISING SUN, FALLING SHADOW picks up right where THE FAR SIDE OF THE SKY left off. It is 1943 and Shanghai has become home to thousands of German Jewish refugees. Dr. Franz Adler and his wife Sunny are recently wed and operating a hospital for the refugee Jewish community. When the Japanese force 20,000 Jewish refugees to relocate to the "Shanghai Ghetto," the Adlers must go. They continue to operate their hospital to the best of their efforts; however, they are constantly battling Nazis and other dangerous living conditions.
I had very similar feelings with RISING SUN, FALLING SHADOW that I had when I finished THE FAR SIDE OF THE SKY. Once again, I loved the characters and thought the story was intriguing. The combination of historical information and drama kept me glued to the pages, but the action-packed scenes didn't hurt either. Having said that, I think I enjoyed THE FAR SIDE OF THE SKY more than RISING SUN, FALLING SHADOW. Maybe it was because I was so impressed with the originality of the setting and what I learned while reading the first book?
Once again, I recognized how much research Mr. Kalla conducted while writing this novel. Not only did he include a fair amount of historical details in the story, but he also did a fantastic job of blending fact with fiction. I mentioned this in my prior review, but I had absolutely no idea prior to reading the book that Shanghai became a home to German Jewish refugees during World War II. I loved the setting of RISING SUN, FALLING SHADOW, and I found it fascinating to learn the turn of events for these refugees.
Finally, I appreciated some of the beautiful messages in the story. There is no doubt that Franz, Sunny, and their family and friends have some terrible experiences; however, this novel, like the first, still has a feeling of hope. Even though the Shanghai Ghetto had some horrific living conditions, the author managed to show the strength of the human spirit. These people still managed to make art, music, and theater; and they sacrificed so much to help each other. Furthermore, there was an underlying message of love and kindness whether it be for family, friends, strangers, lovers, and even sometime enemies.
For those of you who are wondering if the second novel in this series works as a standalone, it does... but I don't really suggest reading it on its own. You might enjoy it and even come to love the characters, but I think RISING SUN, FALLING SHADOW will be appreciated more if you're already aware of Franz and Sunny's journey.
RISING SUN, FALLING SHADOW would definitely make an interesting book club discussion. I wasn't able to find a formal discussion guide; however, most groups wouldn't have an issue coming up with things to discuss. Some of the themes you might want to explore include love, betrayal, secrets, morality, sacrifice, World War II, prejudices, loss and redemption.
RISING SUN, FALLING SHADOW is an entertaining novel and fans of historical fiction will find it intriguing.
Thanks to the Saima Agency for providing a review copy of this novel.