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December 20, 2021

The Last Rose of Shanghai by Weina Dai Randel ~ a Review

by Susan Roberts

"I'm sixty years old, an entrepreneur, a philanthropist, and a troubled woman."  (loc 91)

In Japanese-occupied Shanghai, two people from different cultures are drawn together by fate and the freedom of music…

Amazon affiliate links are used on this site. A free book was provided for an honest review.
The Last Rose of Shanghai
December 2021; Lake Union; 978-1542032872
audio, ebook, print (429 pages); historical fiction

I read lots of World War II books but most of them are about the war in Europe and the reprehensible actions of the German leaders. This book is about life in Shangri during the Japanese invasion. It gave a unique look at how badly the Japanese soldiers treated people during the occupation of China.  It's a dual timeline book taking place in the 1940s and 1980.  The timeline during the war is told by Aiyi and Ernest and the 1960s timeline is told by Aiyi Shao and Ernest.

Aiyi is a 20-year-old heiress who is fighting against the wishes of her parents and brothers by owning a jazz club in Shangri.  Her family has already picked out a husband for her but she has no intention of getting married and giving up her life and her job even though it was very much against the customs in Shangri where the major goal for women was getting married and having babies.  In January of 1940, her club is running out of liquor and she is losing business.  She meets Ernest when he helps her escape from some thugs who wanted to punish her for her race.  Ernest is a German Jew who has come to Shangri with his younger sister to avoid the persecution of Jewish people in Germany. He used the last of his money to buy tickets on the ship and is hoping that his parents will be arriving soon from Germany.  As soon as he gets off the boat, he starts looking for a job and gets turned down everywhere because he's a refugee.  He eventually finds work as a piano player at Aiya's club and his talent helps to make it one of the more famous clubs in Shanghai.  When she hires him, she is defying customs  - there was much prejudice between the Chinese and the white people in the city.  The more time they spend together - the more their feelings for each other grow.  As the war escalates, they find themselves torn apart and the decisions they need to make will affect both of them for the rest of their lives.   Will their love be strong enough to help them overcome the prejudice in Shangri and the war that is becoming part of their everyday lives?  

This was a beautifully written novel and it was apparent that the author did significant research.  The two main characters were so well written that I felt their pain during the war and their happiness at being together. I learned a lot about the war in China and the treatment of the Chinese by the Japanese soldiers.  This is a beautiful story about the pain and sorrow of the war but the overall feeling is one of love and redemption.

(Kindle Unlimited subscribers can read the ebook for FREE)

Susan Roberts lives in North Carolina with her husband of over 50 years.  She grew up in Michigan but now calls North Carolina home. She enjoys reading, traveling, and spending time with her family. She reads almost anything (and the piles of books in her house prove that) but her favorite genres are Southern fiction, women's fiction, and historical fiction. Susan is a top 1% Goodreads Reviewer. You can connect with Susan on Facebook.

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