Night Angels

  • Review
By – March 28, 2023

Weina Dai Randel’s Night Angels, which fic­tion­al­izes the sto­ry of Dr. Ho Feng­shan — the con­sul-gen­er­al in Vien­na dur­ing World War II — and his wife Grace, immers­es read­ers in the couple’s hero­ic efforts to issue visas to Jews flee­ing the Nazis. In his life­time, Ho’s work went unac­knowl­edged, although Yad Vashem posthu­mous­ly rec­og­nized him as a Right­eous Among Nations. This nov­el does both Ho and Grace jus­tice by intro­duc­ing a new gen­er­a­tion to their work.

At the begin­ning of the nov­el, fic­tion­al char­ac­ter Lola Schnit­zler is offer­ing to work as Grace’s Ger­man tutor when they are both arrest­ed: Lola, a Jew­ish woman, is not sup­posed to sit on a pub­lic park bench. This event pro­pels both Feng­shan and Grace to become more involved in sav­ing Jews, help­ing them emi­grate to Shang­hai as the Third Reich takes over Austria.

In addi­tion to depict­ing the couple’s time in Vien­na, the nov­el also explores Grace’s past. Giv­en that Feng­shan often gets recog­ni­tion for his efforts, it is an excel­lent choice to make Grace a char­ac­ter of equal impor­tance. The daugh­ter of an abu­sive white moth­er and a Chi­nese father, Grace grows up nev­er feel­ing at home any­where she goes. She with­draws into her­self and into her love of Emi­ly Dick­in­son. She also suf­fers a per­son­al tragedy that would have destroyed her if not for her friend­ship with Lola. Ulti­mate­ly, Grace’s trau­mat­ic past leads her to devel­op an empa­thy that pro­pels her to put her life on the line for oth­ers in need.

Ran­del does well to illus­trate both the Vien­na of the 1930s and Fengshan’s and Grace’s feel­ings of for­eign­ness in a time of increas­ing xeno­pho­bia. A bea­con of civil­i­ty and deco­rum that fell to the atroc­i­ty of the Nazis, Vien­na serves as an exam­ple of what can hap­pen when cit­i­zens are com­pla­cent. Feng­shan, who ini­tial­ly believed that Vien­na was stronger than this hate, decides he can no longer stand by and watch Jews be sent to their deaths. 

In a time when so many Holo­caust sto­ries have yet to be told, Night Angels is a won­der­ful way to expose read­ers to an unex­plored tale of dan­ger and brav­ery. They will want to learn more about the Jews who emi­grat­ed to Shang­hai — and the peo­ple who helped them get there.

Ariel­la Carmell is a Brook­lyn-based writer of plays and prose. She grad­u­at­ed from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Chica­go, where she stud­ied lit­er­a­ture and phi­los­o­phy. Her work has appeared in Alma, the Sier­ra Neva­da Review, the Brook­lyn review, and elsewhere.

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