Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Night in Shanghai by Nicole Mones

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Obtained from: Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours/Netgalley
Read: March 1, 2014

In 1936, classical pianist Thomas Greene is recruited to Shanghai to lead a jazz orchestra of fellow African-American expats. From being flat broke in segregated Baltimore to living in a mansion with servants of his own, he becomes the toast of a city obsessed with music, money, pleasure and power, even as it ignores the rising winds of war. Song Yuhua is refined, educated, and bonded since age eighteen to Shanghai’s most powerful crime boss in payment for her father’s gambling debts. Outwardly submissive, she burns with rage and risks her life spying on her master for the Communist Party. Only when Shanghai is shattered by the Japanese invasion do Song and Thomas find their way to each other. Though their union is forbidden, neither can back down from it in the turbulent years of occupation and resistance that follow. Torn between music and survival, freedom and commitment, love and world war, they are borne on an irresistible riff of melody and improvisation to Night in Shanghai’s final, impossible choice. In this impressively researched novel, Nicole Mones not only tells the forgotten story of black musicians in the Chinese Jazz age, but also weaves in a stunning true tale of Holocaust heroism little-known in the West. 

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I am thoroughly captivating by WWII. Fiction or non, it doesn't matter. If it relates to the war, it's a safe bet I'm in, which is what led me to Nicole Mones' Night in Shanghai. 

Set against the glitz and glamour of China's jazz age, the book highlights a world rarely seen, a lifestyle and atmosphere about to fall victim to war and years of Japanese occupation, but this is only the beginning of its appeal. 

Mones explores the era through Thomas Greene, a classically trained, African American pianist. Forced to adapt quickly, Greene is soon enjoying a success and freedom he could only dream of in his segregated homeland. The inherent contrast is striking to say the least and represents an intriguingly thought-provoking aspect of the larger story.

Song is an equally compelling personality. Rising above her own set of hardships, she strives to find herself and embrace her interests despite her circumstances. Her interest in politics might be hard for some readers to appreciate, but I thought it a provocative choice and appreciated how Mones used Song to illustrate traditionally masculine subject matter within her narrative. 

Also of note, the historic cast. Though their story lines aren't as cohesive as I might have liked, I was quite taken with Mones portrayal of Earl Whaley, Ho Feng-Shan and Aaron Avshalomov. Though supporting characters, their involvement in the story inspired me to dig deeper in the history that inspired the book and truly appreciate the content of Mones’ work.

A remarkably engaging read, Night in Shanghai explores an oft forgotten chapter of the war. Notable both for its characters and content, the book is an absolute must for any fan of war time fiction. 

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At last I was living for something, and by then I didn’t care if it led to punishment or even death. I knew I was going to die anyway, maybe in the war that was about to engulf me and Lin Ming and Thomas Greene, or maybe, if my secret was betrayed, at the wrong end of a gun in some Shanghai alley. For all the glitter of its golden era, the city during those years dealt death and life in equal measure.
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Check out all the stops on Nicole Mones' Night in Shanghai Virtual Book Tour Schedule

Monday, April 7
Review at Ageless Pages Reviews
Tuesday, April 8
Spotlight & Giveaway at The Bookworm
Wednesday, April 9
Review at Flashlight Commentary
Thursday, April 10
Review at Oh, for the Hook of a Book
Friday, April 11
Interview at Oh, for the Hook of a Book
Monday, April 14
Spotlight & Giveaway at A Lovely Bookshelf on the Wall
Tuesday, April 15
Review, Interview, & Giveaway at Drey’s Library
Wednesday, April 16
Review at A Bibliotaph’s Reviews
Friday, April 18
Review & Giveaway at Our Wolves Den
Monday, April 21
Guest Post at Jorie Loves a Story
Review at WTF Are You Reading?
Tuesday, April 22
Spotlight & Giveaway at Passages to the Past
Wednesday, April 23
Review at Jorie Loves a Story
Thursday, April 24
Interview at Mina’s Bookshelf
Friday, April 25
Guest Post & Giveaway at Bibliophilia, Please
Monday, April 28
Review at Svetlana’s Reads and Views

1 comment:

Diane said...

It sounds like an interesting book. I know very little about the pre-war politics of China, so I have put it on my To Be Read list.