Night in Shanghai, by Nicole Mones, was a wonderful original and inspiring story. It featured a forbidden love story, but yet had so many other layers as well. It dealt with racism, the arts, culture (esp Asian vs. Western), war, servitude.
As much as I love history, and even really like Asian history, it was completely different to me for her to feature black musicians in the Chinese Jazz Age. I didn’t even know China had a jazz age, or any racism towards African-Americans. It was so wonderful of her to research a time in history not well-talked about and bring it to life.
Her voice, or rather the voice of her characters, were strong, vibrant, piercing, believable, and captivating. I really enjoyed hearing the story of Thomas Greene–how he came to Shanghai, how he learned to play jazz after years of classical in America, how he had to deal with racism and segregation, and how he overcame music being dead due to the laws. As the conflict in China and war ensued, he didn’t pick sides, national or communist, as neither supported music. When he meets Song, a Communist spy, he inadvertently becomes intertwined in war, and life is almost all consumed by war. But all he wanted was to play music, and as war ensued, his race no longer mattered, only the music. He longed to keep Shaghai’s jazz clubs alive with sound.
As Mones weaves the story of war, she also gives us a glimpse of how the holocaust came to China. I was educated on the fact that many Jews were planned to be resettled in Western China by the Nationalists in order to gain favor in the West. In this book, Mones featured the struggle between Chinese communists, nationalists, and the Japanese during one of the worst World Wars in history–WWII. Mones put a lot political and military history and intelligence into her book, which I loved, yet it doesn’t feel over done or heavy. She is a wonderful author due to her work in China in which to showcase China’s culture in WWII, and all the political nuances and intrigue, yet she also does a beautiful job of displaying the music in full capacity, from the musical techniques, notes, and reading of music in various ways.
Mones has a great amount of detail to tell and several varying sub-stories, yet she kept the pace moving and her book was tightly edited. I loved her details, her full and lush sentences, and the way the words moved on the page as if they were music themselves.
The novel has strongly formed characters, beautiful sentences, a moving story and plots, and very well-written. I highly recommend this book for anyone who likes war-time history with political intelligence yet also to those who appreciate good music and the people who kept these arts alive at one of the most depressing times in history.
I highly recommend this book for purchase if you like historical Asian culture, war stories, or music history. Really for anyone though, it’s a great historical novel that explores a less common time and place in history than many other books you might find on the shelf set in this time period.
Night in Shanghai, Synopsis~
Genre: Historical Fiction
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.
Praise for Night in Shanghai~
“Based on true episodes and peppered with the lives and experiences of actual characters from the worlds of politics, music, the military, and the government, Mones’ engrossing historical novel illuminates the danger, depravity, and drama of this dark period with brave authenticity.” — Carol Haggas, Booklist
“Mones’ breathless and enlightening account of an African-American jazzman and his circle in prewar Shanghai… keep(s) the suspense mounting until the end.” — Kirkus Reviews
“Amid the plethora of World War II fiction, Mones’s fourth novel (after The Last Chinese Chef) offers a rarely seen African-American and Asian perspective. Fans of works such as Amor Towles’s Rules of Civility will appreciate the use of jazz as the backdrop to a world at war. Historical fiction fans will not be disappointed.” — Library Journal
“With a magician’s sleight of hand, Nicole Mones conjures up the jazz-filled, complex, turbulent world of Shanghai just before World War II. A feast for the senses…the lives and loves of expatriate musicians intertwine with the growing tensions between the Communist Party and the Nationalist Party, while the ominous threats from the Japanese stir the winds of war. A rich and thoroughly captivating read.” – Gail Tsukiyama, author of The Samurai’s Garden
“What an incredible thing Mones does in this novel of the compelling, sexy, rich and complicated world of historical Shanghai. Every page reveals some custom, some costume, some food, some trick of language that exposes a fascinating moment in history — the Japanese invasion on the eve of World War II. Mones weaves the multiple strands of her story much the way themes and melodies are woven into the jazz her protagonist plays, with subtle and suggestive undertones of human greed, power, and passion.” – Marisa Silver, author of Mary Coin
Buy the Book~
Author Nicole Mones, Biography~
A newly launched textile business took Nicole Mones to China for the first time in 1977, after the end of the Cultural Revolution. As an individual she traded textiles with China for eighteen years before she turned to writing about that country.
Her novels Night in Shanghai, The Last Chinese Chef, Lost in Translation and A Cup of Light are in print in more than twenty-two languages and have received multiple juried prizes, including the Kafka Prize (year’s best work of fiction by any American woman) and Kiriyama Prize (finalist; for the work of fiction which best enhances the understanding of any Pacific Rim Culture).
Mones’ nonfiction writing on China has also appeared in the New York Times Magazine, Gourmet, the Los Angeles Times, and the Washington Post. She is a member of the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations. For more information visir www.nicolemones.com,
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