Posts Tagged ‘the far side of the sky’

I am beyond thrilled to welcome Daniel Kalla to Diary of an Eccentric today.  Daniel is the author of The Far Side of the Sky, a novel set in Shanghai during World War II and focusing on the German and Austrian Jews who fled Hitler’s Reich only to encounter new trials and dangers.  The Far Side of the Sky is sure to make my “best reads of 2012” list, so I am delighted that Daniel is here to talk about his father, to whom the novel is dedicated, a man who shares many of the traits of the novel’s hero, Dr. Franz Adler.

Please give a warm welcome to Daniel Kalla:

Here’s an obscure Father’s Day recollection: my dad once told me that the Hungarian Nazis in Budapest were even more vicious than the common German variety. Why, you might wonder, would I possibly remember this on this past Father’s Day of all times? For that I need to offer a little perspective.

I lost my dad—a long-reformed chain smoker and one-time cancer surgeon—to lung cancer two year ago. Dad was never a big fan of Father’s Day. But, in his defense, Dad wasn’t much of a believer in any religious or secular holiday.

My father was a complex man. He was intensely private, extremely proud and stubborn beyond pigheaded, but he was also generous, principled, fiercely loyal and very funny. He once ordered a pizza to be delivered to an Italian restaurant whose manager told him that the kitchen was too busy to make pizza that night!

But back to the war… as a Jewish teenager, my father survived Nazi-occupied Hungary largely thanks to his wits and a big dollop of luck. He witnessed horrible things during those years and was reluctant to ever discuss his experiences; his comment about the Hungarian Nazis was one of the few exceptions. I think Dad believed that he had lived through a uniquely evil period and saw no use in dredging up that past.

I dedicated my latest novel, THE FAR SIDE OF THE SKY, to the memory of Dad. Partly, because I had just lost him but mainly because he inspired my story. Bizarrely, I didn’t realize he was the inspiration until after it was written. Even then, it took my cousin to point it out to me.

My novel’s hero, Dr. Franz Adler, is a widowed secular Austrian surgeon who is swept up by the tidal wave of anti-Semitism that swept Vienna after Kristallnacht. Desperate to find sanctuary for his handicapped daughter, he escapes to the only place that will have them: Shanghai. There, Franz finds a burgeoning German Jewish community who faces a unique set of challenges in arguably the Twentieth Century’s most eclectic, cosmopolitan and fascinating city. He also falls in love with a Eurasian Shanghai native, a nurse who understand what it means to be a fish out of water, but that’s another story. Well, the same story but you get it…

After my cousin read the draft, he asked why I had chosen to write about my father. I told him that was nonsense—that I never base fictional characters on real people and my novel recounted the amazing, yet little known, history of the Shanghai Jews, not my family’s experience. Then my cousin began pointing out parallels: my dad’s name was Frank, he was a surgeon like Franz, they shared the same stubborn temperament and brave personalities and they were both considered dreamy by their nursing colleagues. At that moment, I realized: holy crap! Of course Dad was the template for my fictional hero!

I am forever grateful that my father did have a chance to read the first draft of the manuscript. He told me he loved it but Dad (never being one to offer unconditional praise) also said that he’s not sure he would have been interested if he wasn’t a Jewish doctor himself. Maybe Dad, too, had seen himself in the role, but he never said as much to me.

Father’s Day reminds me acutely of my loss. I think of the many little running jokes, observations and the pearls of wisdom that Dad used to toss out. And oddly, today I just thought about the murderous Hungarian Nazis whom he managed to outwit.

Thanks, Daniel, for sharing your story. Your father sounds like an amazing man.


Courtesy of the publisher, I have one copy of The Far Side of the Sky to offer to my readers.  This giveaway is open to readers in the U.S. and Canada and will close at 11:59 pm EST on Thursday, June 28, 2012.

**Please note that this giveaway is now closed**

Disclosure: I am an IndieBound affiliate and an Amazon associate.

© 2012 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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Source: Review copy from Saima Agency/Forge Books
Rating: ★★★★★

“Ah, but the artist in me cannot help but admire their sense of aesthetics.  They truly excel at making ugly things look and sound pretty, don’t they?  Have you heard what they’re calling last night’s rampage?”  Franz said nothing, but Ernst, who was accustomed to carrying on one-sided conversations, continued.  “Kristallnacht.  Isn’t that lovely? — ‘the night of crystal.'”  He grunted again.  “Only the Nazis could make a night of national disgrace and hateful violence sound like an opera that Mozart might have penned!”

(from The Far Side of the Sky)

Daniel Kalla’s latest novel, The Far Side of the Sky, is historical fiction at its best.  I can’t resist World War II novels that teach me something new, and Kalla did just that, focusing on the German Jews who fled Europe to escape the escalating Nazi violence and settled in Shanghai, which was pretty much the only place that would accept them at that point.  Shanghai is a city of excitement and a city of fear, a city rampant with crime, prostitution, and opium addiction.  The city is home to people of various nationalities, a melting pot of sorts, and the Japanese presence casts a shadow over everything.

After Kristallnacht on November 9, 1938, Franz Adler, a secular Jewish surgeon in Vienna, realizes he and his family are no longer welcome in the city he has called home all of his life.  On that night of chaos and violence, Franz sees his brother’s body hanging from a lamppost, and he understands that he must get his family out — and fast, since the sinister Adolf Eichmann, in charge of stamping Jewish exit visas, gives him just a matter of days to leave the country or he will be sent to a prison camp.  He manages to secure a spot on a luxury liner from Italy to Shanghai, and Franz, his eight-year-old disabled daughter, Hannah, his grieving sister-in-law, Esther, and their friend, Ernst, a gay artist whose work and lifestyle were deemed degenerate by the Nazis, prepare to start new lives in a land they know nothing about, merely hoping that they will finally be safe.

Meanwhile, Sunny Mah, the daughter of a Chinese doctor and an American missionary, struggles to get by in Shanghai, where people of mixed race are not received favorably.  Sunny has to bow lower and longer to the Japanese before crossing into their section of the city, and she has the intelligence to be a doctor, but the head surgeon at the hospital where she works refuses to acknowledge her potential.  She learns that a hospital for the Jewish refugees is being built, and she volunteers her time and expertise, soon becoming an important member of the staff.

It is at the refugee hospital that she meets Franz, and even though they have passionate feelings for one another, obligation and the war conspire to keep them apart.  When the Japanese attack Pearl Harbor and seize all of Shanghai, things get worse for everyone living in the city — especially the refugees, as the organizations in England and the United States that provide food and shelter can no longer funnel money into the city.

The Far Side of the Sky is an exciting and beautifully written story about a city and people in turmoil.  There is a lot going on in this novel, and Kalla does a wonderful job balancing and connecting all of the plot threads, including the plight of the Jews in Vienna and the Chinese under Japanese rule, the ethical dilemmas that threaten Franz’s career and the fate of his family, the convergence of numerous cultures in one city, the starvation and disease that ran rampant, and the sadness of the people who escaped the Nazis realizing that they probably would never see the relatives they left behind ever again.  Kalla’s descriptions of Shanghai made the city come alive, and I could see the chaos, smell the stifling odors and the exotic aromas, and feel deeply for each of the characters, all of whom felt so real to me.

The Far Side of the Sky is a novel about so many things, and while it boils down to a story about survival and love in the midst of war, such a simple statement doesn’t do this book justice.  It’s also about sacrifice, obligation, and making the most of the worst circumstances.  It’s about people forced to leave behind everything and everyone they know and love and start anew in a land with new dangers waiting for them just around the corner.  Moreover, it’s another book likely to make my list of best books read this year.

Book 24 for the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge

Disclosure: I received The Far Side of the Sky from the Saima Agency and Forge Books for review.

© 2012 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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