My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Time taken to read - 2.5 days
Pages - 400
Publisher - Black & White Publishing
Source - Review copy
Blurb from Goodreads
A beautifully written, sweeping story of survival, community and love ...
It it April 1939, and, in Berlin and Vienna, Esther and Kitty face a brutal choice. Flee Europe, or face the ghetto, incarceration, death.
Shanghai … They’ve heard it whispered that Shanghai might offer refuge. And so, on a crowded ocean liner, these women encounter each other for the first time.
Kitty has been lured to the other side of the world with promises of luxury, love and marriage. But when her Russian fiancé reveals his hand, she’s left to scratch a vulnerable living in Shanghai’s nightclubs and dark corners. Meanwhile, Esther and her daughter shelter in a house of widows until Aaron, a hot-headed former lover, brings fresh hope of survival.
Then, as the Japanese army enters the fray and violence mounts, the women are thrown together in Shanghai’s most desperate times. Together they must fight a future for the lives that will follow theirs.
Esther and Kitty, two very different girls but both escaping Europe to Shanghai to evade the war. Kitty is running to a new life, a fiance, money, a new home, perfect. Esther has her wee girl, leaving to the unknown but willing to work. On the ship over the ladies meet and forge a connection, a friendship before parting to what awaits them. Things aren't quite as they planned, circumstances change, war rages and as the Japanese soldiers invade their small part of the world we experience the war and injustices through the ladies eyes.
I have to admit my ignorance, I don't know a whole lot about the wars and the history of the world but Shanghai was never an area I read or heard of during these times, World War two in this book. The imagery created by Conlin, in some of the darkest parts you could taste the poverty/filth/deprivation and feel the stark reality and darkness faced by these characters. Emotive is a word I find using more and more when reading these kind of books but in parts of this it evoked raw emotion. The horror these people faced, survived, endured and those who didn't, your breath catches, holds and strains as you inhale word after word rooting for it to go good.
So so many themes in this book but for me the biggest were humanity, relationships and the shape of who we are, how tough humans can be and more importantly just how quick things can turn and change. The strength of humans, the goodness and some of the most horrific aspects especially the antisemitism it really made the hairs of the back of my neck stand and my gorge rise. This was my first dance with this author, it won't be my last, she has a way of pulling the reader right into the settings, location and lives of the characters, 4/5 for me this time.
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