Shang­hai Legacy

Mar­i­on Cuba
  • Review
By – July 9, 2012

Each of us has secrets, but some secrets lie deep yet have a pen­e­trat­ing effect on our lives and those of our loved ones. Shang­hai Lega­cy is a sto­ry about secrets, inten­tions, frac­tured rela­tion­ships, and transformation. 

Maya, who takes care of her ill moth­er Han­nah, is bit­ter about their strained, often crushed rela­tion­ship. When Han­nah dies, Maya goes through her belong­ings and finds a series of doc­u­ments writ­ten in Ger­man hid­den inside a piece of fur­ni­ture. Sam, a lawyer turned antiques deal­er, comes to the home to appraise this piece of fur­ni­ture, befriends Maya and offers to trans­late these papers for her. What he finds is a diary from 1938 deal­ing with her mother’s painful expe­ri­ence of mov­ing to Shang­hai, which Jews were at the time allowed to enter with­out a visa. Through these pages, Maya dis­cov­ers the chal­lenges that her moth­er faced, liv­ing in sub­stan­dard con­di­tions, while watch­ing her fam­i­ly, which was once well-to-do in Ger­many, be reduced in sta­tus and pow­er. As the mys­tery of Hannah’s life unfolds, Maya finds her­self ques­tion­ing her rela­tion­ship with her hus­band, a respect­ed doc­tor who drinks too much. Ulti­mate­ly, the read­ing of Hannah’s diary has a trans­form­ing and free­ing pow­er on Maya as she begins to exam­ine the mean­ing of her own life and her rela­tion­ships with her now deceased moth­er and with her family. 

Shang­hai Lega­cy offers an inter­est­ing look into the time of the Holo­caust when Jews were forced to flee, and the con­di­tions under which they lived. Cuba’s engross­ing nov­el pro­vides the read­er with a fas­ci­nat­ing account of Jews liv­ing in Shang­hai dur­ing the Nazi era. 

Bar­bara S. Cohen is a tri­al attor­ney in Los Ange­les who spe­cial­izes in child abuse cas­es. She is a mem­ber of NAMI and a sup­port­er of NARSAD, and is an advo­cate for those who suf­fer from men­tal illness.

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