Few would be proud of a mother who was just this side of being a prostitute, but if that was what it took, and for their mother it wasnât difficult, than that is the technique she would use to get herself, her two daughters, and new Oma, a recently acquired grand- mother to replace the original one who had died, aboard a fully packed boat, destination Shanghai. Ostensibly, it is a story about a German Jewish family who settle in the squalid quarters of Shanghai, quarters available to such refugees, those without funds. Employment opportunities were next to nothing and despite the food given to the refugees by the Jewish agencies, hunger, like illness and death were prevalent. Midway through the book, the mother, now âa lady of the night,â has deserted her family: teenage Freda, little sister Lottie, new Oma, and other unforgettable fully realized characters who have become part of the family. Older daughter Freda has become its head and must find a job as her mother had also taken what money they had. To tell the story doesnât really tell the story. The story is but the frame upon which the characters and their surroundings are suspended and made available to enter the readerâs psyche. When an author is able to have such elements leave the page and inhabit the readerâs brain forever, that is a great book, as this one is. Of all the books this reviewer has read about the Shanghai experience, and many of them are good, none has ever incorporated itself into my psyche as has this one.
Highly recommended for ages 13 and up.
– Marcia Weiss Posner – Jewish Book Council
In her latest novel, With Fearful Bravery, award-winning author Lynne Kositsky weaves a richly imagined community where unlikely companions become allies with a comradery born from hope, Shakespearean quotes, and the occasional magic trick.
Freda’s father disappears after he is arrested by the Nazis during Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass. Hoping to wait out the war in safety, eleven-year-old Freda, her younger sister Lotty, and their mother flee to Shanghai, where they are forced to live in a squalid communal space for Jewish refugees. Overwhelmed by the futility of their situation, Freda’s mother eventually abandons her daughters, and Freda is forced to accept responsibility for herself, her sister, and their sickly adopted grandmother. Eventually, their small unit grows to include Yoshi, a rebellious Jewish student with a puckish sense of adventure, Izo, an aspiring actress with convenient thieving abilities, and Song, a Chinese street waif. Together, the motley crew use their ingenuity to survive the difficult years of Japanese occupation.
Kositsky’s unusual setting choice – Shanghai – provides a fresh perspective on WWII, and neatly captures the unsettling limbo that paralyzed so many families dislocated by the war. Out of Shanghai’s twisted streets, temporary communities arose, and from this transience and instability, families were created through shared experience and sympathy rather than blood.
In Kositsky’s war, the good guys cannot be identified by their religion or their skin colour. Instead, people are complicated and messy; those who should provide comfort and protection are abusive and neglectful, random strangers become families, and, as the war progresses, “the enemy” proves increasingly difficult to recognize. This brilliant coming of age story follows Freda’s journey from the rebellious eleven-year-old stealing street food, to the experienced seventeen-year-old who dreams of a new life in Canada.
The setting on both the ship and the tropical island are stunning. Readers will gasp with horror at conditions on the ship, tremble at the storm scenes and thrill to the tension around the solving of the puzzle. The pace of the plot is relentless and this book is impossible to put down.
… an exhilarating adventure story… Robin’s first person narration often uses language that is old-fashioned and out-dated, which has the effect of making his character seem believable and authentic. At the same time, the diction in the book stops short of being cumbersome; it does not impede the narrative flow or the comprehension of the modern reader. Robin’s story feels real, and the book’s “Afterward” provides a much-appreciated explanation that situates the fiction in the actual historical account… The book’s greatest strength comes from the delightful character of Robin Starveling, someone whom the reader quickly befriends as he humorously battles against his own wickedness and the abuse of his disgusting employer… Boys and girls alike will be quickly drawn into the adventure as they puzzle out the clues to the treasure along with Fence and Starveling. Highly recommended.