Review: The Song of the Jade Lily by Kirsty Manning

Review: The Song of the Jade Lily by Kirsty ManningThe Song of the Jade Lily by Kirsty Manning
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, World War II
Pages: 480
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks on May 14, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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Kirsty Manning makes her US debut with this gripping historical novel that tells the little-known story of Jewish refugees who fled to Shanghai during WWII.


1939
: Two young girls meet in Shanghai, also known as the “Paris of the East”. Beautiful local Li and Jewish refugee Romy form a fierce friendship, but the deepening shadows of World War II fall over the women as they slip between the city's glamorous French Concession district and the teeming streets of the Shanghai Ghetto. Yet soon the realities of war prove to be too much for these close friends as they are torn apart.


2016:
Fleeing London with a broken heart, Alexandra returns to Australia to be with her grandparents, Romy and Wilhelm. Her grandfather is dying, and over the coming weeks Romy and Wilhelm begin to reveal the family mysteries they have kept secret for more than half a century. As fragments of her mother's history finally become clear, Alexandra struggles with what she learns while more is also revealed about her grandmother's own past in Shanghai.

After Wilhelm dies, Alexandra flies to Shanghai, determined to trace her grandparents' past. Peeling back the layers of their hidden lives, she is forced to question what she knows about her family—and herself. 

The Song of the Jade Lily is a lush, provocative, and beautiful story of friendship, motherhood, the price of love, and the power of hardship and courage that can shape us all.

My Review:

As this story opens, Alexandra Laird is lost. She is 36 years old, she has just broken up with the man she expected to marry, after eight years of a relationship and three years of living together. She is planning to take up a new post in Shanghai after years in England, first at Oxford University and then as a commodities trader in London.

But she is on her way to Melbourne, taking family leave between job postings to spend six weeks with her grandmother and grandfather. Her beloved grandfather is dying. She is going home to see him one last time, and to help her grandmother after the inevitable.

The circle of her family, once consisting of her mother and father, her Oma and Opa, and herself, is now reduced to just two. Her parents died when she was a child, and her grandparents raised her. Now that Opa is gone, it is just her and Romy, her Oma.

Or is it?

Alexandra’s mother, Sophia, was Chinese, adopted by her parents in Shanghai where they fled after Kristallnacht. Her grandparents were Jews, forced to flee their native Vienna after the Anschluss.

Sophia, so different from her neighbors and classmates, always wondered where she came from and why her birth parents gave her up. But her parents didn’t discuss the war, the subject was painful and taboo, as it was for Alexandra when she asked the same questions. Her parents and grandparents loved her, and it was supposed to be enough.

But now, grief-stricken and at loose ends in her personal life, Alexandra takes the opportunity of her job in Shanghai, the place where her parents fled and her mother came from, to discover the truths about her own origins.

They say that the truth will set you free. It just doesn’t happen until after it chews you up, spits you out and turns you into something new.

Escape Rating A+: This is an absolutely marvelous dual timeline story about family and love and war and survival. And the power of friendship. And it’s utterly beautiful every step of the way.

Alexandra’s story is the contemporary story, and it takes up most of the narrative. She’s lost and kind of alone and losing her anchors to her past while not sure of her present and her future. When the holes start opening in her heart she looks backward, not to her own past, but to the past of her much-loved grandparents, and to the war that shaped their lives.

And that’s the other timeline. Not as Alexandra discovers it, but as it happened. Just as we follow Alexandra in 2016, we see the life of her grandmother Romy. Romy’s story begins in 1938, the morning after Kristallnacht, the infamous Night of Broken Glass. Romy and her family lived in Vienna, and they need to get out. While they still can.

In desperation, they travel to Shanghai, China, one of the few places that will let them in. Europe under the Nazi sway had become deadly for Jews. Most countries around the world shut their gates and restricted Jewish immigration to a tiny trickle. Palestine under the British Protectorate could neither take in nor support the tens of thousands who wanted to leave.

The door to Shanghai was open, and they took it. But that chapter of their lives seems to have been a closed book to their adopted daughter Sophia, and Sophia’s daughter Alexandra as well. As the Alexandra’s story moves to her new job in contemporary Shanghai Romy’s story moves from her initial explorations of her new city, her burgeoning friendship with her best friend Li Ho, and her budding romance with Li’s brother Jian.

Until tragedy strikes again, Japan takes over Shanghai, and the horrors of war find Romy yet again. The story becomes Romy’s story of survival – and Alexandra’s story of renewal.

This is a story that touches the heart every step of the way. And breaks it. And mends it again. Just as it does Alexandra’s.

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