January 13, 2021

In Japan­ese-occu­pied Shang­hai, two peo­ple from dif­fer­ent cul­tures are drawn togeth­er by fate and the free­dom of music…

1940. Aiyi Shao is a young heiress and the own­er of a for­mer­ly pop­u­lar and glam­orous Shang­hai night­club. Ernest Reis­mann is a pen­ni­less Jew­ish refugee dri­ven out of Ger­many, an out­sider search­ing for shel­ter in a city wary of strangers. He los­es near­ly all hope until he cross­es paths with Aiyi. When she hires Ernest to play piano at her club, her defi­ance of cus­tom caus­es a sen­sa­tion. His instant fame makes Aiyi’s club once again the hottest spot in Shang­hai. Soon they real­ize they share more than a pas­sion for jazz―but their dif­fer­ences seem insur­mount­able, and Aiyi is engaged to anoth­er man.

As the war esca­lates, Aiyi and Ernest find them­selves torn apart, and their choic­es between love and sur­vival grow more des­per­ate. In the face of over­whelm­ing odds, a chain of events is set in motion that will change both their lives forever.

From the elec­tri­fy­ing jazz clubs to the impov­er­ished streets of a city under siege, The Last Rose of Shang­hai is a time­less, sweep­ing sto­ry of love and redemption.

Discussion Questions

Cour­tesy of Weina Dai Randel

  • When Aiyi first appears in the nov­el, she wears a cus­tom-made shoe.” Was that sur­pris­ing to you?

  • When Ernest Reis­n­mann arrived in Shang­hai, how did he feel about the city?

  • When Aiyi Shao first met Ernest, why did she refrain from express­ing her gratitude?

  • Shang­hai in 1940 was a divid­ed city. How did pol­i­tics affect the peo­ple liv­ing in those sep­a­rat­ed dis­tricts? Can you give some examples?

  • Can you give a few exam­ples of cul­tur­al dif­fer­ences in the novel?

  • How would you describe the char­ac­ter of Aiyi Shao at the begin­ning? Did she change? How?

  • Does the char­ac­ter Ernest Reis­mann feel real­is­tic to you? Why?

  • Dis­cuss the sib­ling dynam­ics in the nov­el. How did Aiyi get along with her broth­ers, Sin­may and Ying? How did Ernest get along with his sis­ter Miriam?

  • Sir Vic­tor Sas­soon was a his­tor­i­cal fig­ure. Have you heard of him before? How would you describe the char­ac­ter of Sir Vic­tor Sas­soon in this novel?

  • Emi­ly Hahn was a his­tor­i­cal fig­ure. How would you describe the char­ac­ter in the nov­el, the jour­nal­ist, an inde­pen­dent woman liv­ing in Shang­hai on her own, an opi­um addict, and an Amer­i­can who fell in love with a Chi­nese poet?

  • How impor­tant do you think music plays in the novel?

  • Lau­ra Mar­go­lis was a his­tor­i­cal fig­ure. Describe her con­tri­bu­tion to the Jew­ish refugees in the novel.

  • How would you describe Yamazaki?

  • Describe the hor­ri­ble con­di­tion inside the Jew­ish Ghet­to. Do you think this trag­ic con­fine­ment could have been avoided?

  • Was the end­ing pre­dictable? Why?

  • In the 1930s Chi­na was a coun­try that did not require an entrance visa and more than 20,000 Euro­pean Jews found safe­ty in Shang­hai between 1933 – 1941 from per­se­cu­tion in Nazi Ger­many. How­ev­er, in 1941 Germany’s most pow­er­ful ally, Japan, seized Shang­hai. Both the refugees and the Chi­nese were bru­tal­ly mis­treat­ed by the Japan­ese. The Last Rose of Shang­hai is a love sto­ry between two peo­ple from dif­fer­ent cul­tures, Ernest Reis­mann, a nine­teen-year-old pen­ni­less Jew­ish refugee who has come to Shang­hai with his young sis­ter, and Alyi, a beau­ti­ful, aris­to­crat­ic Chi­nese club own­er who is also nine­teen. In defi­ance of cus­tom, Alyi hires Ernest, a West­ern­er, to play piano in her club and it becomes the hottest spot in Shang­hai. They real­ize they share much more than music. But Alyi is engaged and in addi­tion, their affair is for­bid­den between their two cul­tures. Their lives are torn apart as the war escalates.

    The sto­ry has a dual time­line — the 1940s and the 1980s, at which time Alyi is pro­vid­ing mate­r­i­al for a doc­u­men­tary to tell Ernest’s sto­ry. In this well-researched his­tor­i­cal nov­el, the author includes char­ac­ters who are real such as Emi­ly Hahn, an Amer­i­can jour­nal­ist; Lau­ra Mar­go­lis, who led the efforts in Shang­hai for the Amer­i­can Joint Dis­tri­b­u­tion Com­mit­tee; and Vic­tor Sas­soon, who built the Peace Hotel. More than just a love sto­ry, the nov­el deals with the hor­rors of the Japan­ese inva­sion, the his­to­ry of World War II, los­ing and rebuild­ing lives in a strange land, reli­gion, race hate, loss, grief, and mak­ing impos­si­ble choic­es. This is a book that will stay with the reader.