Children’s

Shang­hai Shadows

Lois Ruby
  • Review
By – November 11, 2011

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.

Discussion Questions