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Shanghai Diary    by Ursula Bacon order for
Shanghai Diary
by Ursula Bacon
Order:  USA  Can
M Press, 2004 (2002)
Hardcover, Paperback
*   Reviewed by Anise Hollingshead

In 1939, Eastern Europe was no place to be if you were Jewish. Sadly, though, most countries were unwilling to admit Jewish refugees, and severely limited the numbers allowed in. Only Shanghai, China, still had open ports for Jews. This is where Ursula Bacon and her parents fled and remained for the next eight years, in the Hongkew ghetto.

Up to that time, Ursula had led a sheltered life in comfortable circumstances. The night her father was taken by the Gestapo was the beginning of her new existence, with no comfort and no certainty. Her father was allowed to return home, but it was just a matter of time before their family would be taken for good. It was time to leave. Shanghai was a crowded and dirty place, and the culture shock was great. Soon the older Jews who lived there created their own cultural enclave, and managed to keep intact their own traditions and values. But to the children like Ursula, the native Chinese and the foreign nationalities living there (Shanghai was a hodgepodge of expatriates) were irresistable.

The tale of the Shanghai Jews is fascinating, a historical episode of which I was completely unaware. While the conditions were often hard, with disease and hunger rampant, most of the people were aware of how lucky they were to have avoided the death camps. The story is told through the eyes of a young girl, with her perspective on events. Unencumbered by an adult's prejudices, she's free to view people as they are, not as she expects them to be. We also get a glimpse of how unnerving it is to a child when surrounding adults suddenly become powerless.

The Shanghai Diary story is interesting, and the fact that Ursula Bacon actually lived it with courage, and gave us the gift of retelling it for our education, is laudable. However, the style is histrionic, with an overuse of adjectives. And, while the point of view is supposedly a child's, the adult the author is now is often superimposed on the child she was then (e.g. ideas on religion sound more like a New Ager of today than a child of the '40s, no matter how sophisticated), distracting from the story.

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