In happier moments, Franz took pride in the triumph of the refugees’ will over circumstance: the sense of culture and community that somehow blossomed under a constant shadow of persecution and deprivation. But in his current dark mood, it seemed to him that survival had become the only object of their existence.
(from Rising Sun, Falling Shadow)
Daniel Kalla‘s newest novel, Rising Sun, Falling Shadow, is the second book in a trilogy that began with The Far Side of the Sky, a book I loved so much it made my Best of 2012 list. Rising Sun, Falling Shadow — destined to make my Best of 2013 list — continues the story of Dr. Franz Adler, an Austrian Jew who fled to Shanghai in 1938 to escape the Nazis, and Sunny, a native Shanghailander whose medical knowledge brought her and Franz together at a hospital for the Jewish refugees. The novel is set during 1943, in a Shanghai suffering under the Japanese occupation during World War II.
When the Japanese put Shanghai’s American and British residents into internment camps, Franz’s pregnant sister-in-law, Esther, is parted from her second husband, Simon. The lynching of her first husband, Franz’s brother, during Kristallnacht is still fresh in her mind — but this is only the beginning of her worries. The Japanese order the city’s stateless refugees, including thousands of Jews, to relocate, and soon newlyweds Franz and Sunny, his now 13-year-old daughter Hannah, Esther, and her new baby are forced to live in crowded, squalid conditions in the Shanghai Ghetto.
Franz and Sunny struggle to keep the refugee hospital open when medical supplies are scarce. Franz also must figure out a way to outmaneuver the power-hungry Ghoya, who is in charge of the ghetto and animatedly opposes a special hospital for the Jews, and Baron von Puttkamer, a Nazi working on plans to annihilate Shanghai’s Jewish refugees. Meanwhile, Sunny, angry at the atrocities committed by the Japanese, joins a Resistance cell — a decision that jeopardizes her safety and that of her family when she refuses to simply do as she is told.
Rising Sun, Falling Shadow is an exciting novel, with Kalla showing the danger and chaos from the very first page. Kalla is a fantastic storyteller, making wartime Shanghai come to life. I could see how the once vibrant city had begun to deteriorate, feel the fear and hunger and never-ending anxiety and uneasiness of the refugees, and sense the danger lurking everywhere. In the midst of the terror and uncertainty, however, life must go on, and Kalla emphasizes this though the joy baby Jakob brings, the comfort Franz and Sunny find in one another, and even Hannah’s first crush.
With complex and memorable characters struggling with anger and guilt and simply trying to survive, Rising Sun, Falling Shadow is an emotional story about how far people will go to save those they love. Kalla provides enough back story for the novel to stand on its own, but I recommend reading them in order to appreciate the evolution of the characters and the changes the city undergoes as the war drags on. The novel is not only a page-turner but also a thought-provoking tale of love and loss, courage and betrayal, and the search for humanity amidst so much wretchedness. I am anxiously awaiting the last book in the trilogy so I can spend more time with these characters and see how they fare during the last year or so of the war.
Disclosure: I received Rising Sun, Falling Shadow from the Saima Agency/Forge for review.
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