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 wasn’t 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 “a lady of the night,” 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 doesn’t 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 reader’s psyche. When an author is able to have such elements leave the page and inhabit the reader’s 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