Written by Angel Wagenstein
Published by Other Press
Review by Charlene Tolberg
From the moment I picked up this novel I was fascinated by the story, which is set around World War II and the Shanghai ghetto. I, like many others, was not even aware of the existence of the Shanghai ghetto, which was yet another atrocity inflicted upon the Jews during World War II. As Jews began to be persecuted under the Nazi regime, many European Jews fled to Shanghai. But Shanghai was under Japanese occupation at the time and so a section of the city, Hongku, was created into yet another Jewish ghetto. The Jewish inhabitants suffered at the hands of the Japanese, and they were forced to live in deplorable conditions, but they were also brave people and managed to carve a place for themselves in a cold, violent world. In fact, many of the Jewish inhabitants of the Shanghai ghetto were intellectuals, artists, and musicians. This story is not so much about the Shanghai ghetto itself as the people who lived there and struggled, determined to survive.
Angel Wagenstein, the author of Farewell, Shanghai, has an interesting story himself. During World War II he was interned in a Jewish camp which he fled to help fight in the antifascist resistance. For this novel he based his information about the Jewish exiles living in Shanghai on real-life people. For his research he read memoirs, conducted personal interviews, and even visited China, and his novel reveals the personal touch, as though these are not fictional characters but true flesh and blood people who suffered terribly yet persevered.
For bringing to life a part of World War II history that is largely unknown, Wagenstein deserves five quills. Though it is a sad story, at its heart it is a story about strength and courage, and it is a story that we all should be aware of. This novel succeeds because Wagenstein manages to connect us on a personal level to the people who suffered in Shanghai. ______________________________________________________________
Charlene Tolberg is a wife, mother, and writer who lives in Santa Barbara, California. She is currently working on her MFA in Creative Writing from UC Santa Barbara.