While she was overseas on holiday the idea for this book gradually came to the Kirsty Manning. In Honhkou, she noticed a “Rusted Star of David inset into a doorway.” That led to a visit to the Shanghai Jewish Refugees Museum. She has used historical research to detail a fictional family’s journey, and experiences during, and after, the war.
The story outlines the journey over time of the Jewish Bernfield family and their lives, as the Germans invade their home in Austria. Narrated by Romy, the twelve year old daughter, and also Alexandra, her granddaughter, we pass from the present to the past to gradually delve into mysteries that have held the family together in love.
When Romy, Papa and Mutti witnessed Kristallnacht, and saw their brother and son shot, they knew they had to leave Austria. Through a very good friend, they were able to get visas to China, and being a fine doctor, the father was offered a position in a hospital in Shanghai. They were privileged because of their medical backgrounds, and because they had money. The Bernfields made great efforts to fit in to the large Jewish Society of refugees in Shanghai, and they also made friends with local Chinese.
Romy enjoyed her time learning a new language, meeting new friends and studying at school. Romy met Nina on the boat to China, and although Nina was living with an uncle, Romy and Nina kept in contact. Romy also had great friends in Li and her brother Jiang, whose father was also a doctor, but of Chinese traditional medicines. He and Papa shared many ideas.
We meet Alexandra, Romy’s granddaughter, when she has been called to Australia as her Opa is dying. As Romy and Opa migrated to Australia from Shanghai, and raised Alexandra, she is sure of the love and family ties she will find. However, Alexandra wants to learn more about her mother, who died when she was young.
The strength and love that dominate this story is quite remarkable. The calamities that Romy has faced as a young girl, then as a young adult, are enormous. The Japanese invasion of China and some of the atrocities committed there were witnessed by Romy, who used her medical knowledge to help the locals. Her parents had not left for work at the hospital when their building was bombed, so yet again, Romy witnessed the death of loved ones.
It is hard to convey the fascinating search Alexandra has in China, while looking for information about her mother. It is also remarkable how little is known about the Jewish refugees in China. The characters in this novel stand firm in the face of adversity, and are totally loving, as their idea of family unity comes before all else.
Such a unique story told in a gradual revelation of facts and ideas is compelling and great reading.
|Publisher||Allen and Unwin|
|Distributor||Allen and Unwin|