Sometimes fiction is truer than memoir. In reading a memoir, the reader is outside the story, looking in; but in good fiction, the reader enters the story and experiences it almost as if there. With her newest book, Shanghai Shadows, Lois Ruby conjures up the magic of “being there.” The setting of the book may be Shanghai, but the real story is human nature.
Ilse, her older brother Erich, and their mother and father have come to the awful realization that Austria is no place for a Jewish family. It is time to get out, but to where? There is only one possible place, Japanese occupied China — or Shanghai. At first, conditions are tolerable. As the political situation deteriorates and the United States enters the war, the immigrant population is imprisoned in a ghetto where the inhabitants have to deal with near starvation and an odious, cruel, but eccentric keeper of the gate. But it is the relationship that develops between Ilse and the little Chinese street-boy, Liu that make this refuge story so outstanding. Filled with daring resistance activities in which she and her brother participate, and inhabited by wonderfully drawn characters like Ilse’s parents — once proud and proper upper class Viennese Jews who evolve realistically as their fortunes change — this book is highly recommended. Ages 11 – 14.
Rachel Kamin is the Director of the Joseph and Mae Gray Cultural & Learning Center at North Suburban Synagogue Beth El in Highland Park, Illinois. A past chair of the Sydney Taylor Book Award Committee, Rachel is currently the co-editor of Book Reviews for Children & Teens for the Association of Jewish Libraries Newsletter. She holds a BA in history from Grinnell College and a master’s degree in library and information science from the University of Michigan.