When Stay At Home orders began this March, I found myself in a constant struggle of maintaining normalcy while also adjusting to full-time stay at home mom life. I felt overwhelmed and cut off, and as I do, I turned to books to help me cope. I love to read, and I always have. Books have a powerful ability to take us to faraway times and places, to educate us, and to distract us. That is also when I decided that I wanted to start writing about Jewish literature.
I first wrote about sharing the books I was reading in June. At the time that I was going to share my first book, the realities of racial inequality and police brutality inspired me to take a pause and reflect. The book I was going to share was All Other Nights by Dara Horn, which is set during the Civil War. I truly enjoyed the book, but it seemed like the wrong book for the moment. Perhaps I will reexamine the book and my thoughts on it another time. As for now, I am finally ready to start sharing what I’ve been reading. Starting with The Song of the Jade Lily by Kirsty Manning.
This book is told from the perspectives of main character Romy and her granddaughter Alexandra starting in the years 1939 and 2016, respectively. Romy’s story begins with her family’s flight from Vienna to Shanghai after Kristallnacht. Upon her arrival to Shanghai she and her family befriend their neighbors, with whom they develop a close relationship that is tested throughout the rest of the war and their time in Shanghai. Alexandra’s story begins with her return to her grandparents’ home in Australia, where she was raised. Upon the death of her grandfather, she begins to unravel the details of her family’s mysterious and painful past.
I have to admit that while I was scrolling through my library’s virtual catalogue, the picture of the star on the cover of the book is what made me take a second look. Though I initially felt bad for making assumptions based on the book’s cover, I later learned while reading the author’s notes that while walking through a neighborhood in Shanghai, she spotted what appeared to be a Star of David on a door. Upon seeing this, she researched the history of Jewish people in Shanghai and discovered that Jewish refugees came to Shanghai during World War II. It seems that from the beginning, the author was already weaving details from her travels and experiences abroad into her storytelling. The pacing of the story might have been a bit slow at times, but I can’t help but applaud Ms. Manning for her dedicated research.
As I said before, books have the ability to take us to faraway times and places and also educate us. The Song of the Jade Lily will take you on a journey to a piece of history that is global and harsh, but also full of hope and perseverance.