Night in Shanghai
Publication Date: March 4, 2014
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Formats: Hardcover, eBook
Genre: Historical Fiction
In 1936, classical pianist Thomas Greene is recruited to Shanghai to lead a jazz orchestra of fellow African-American expats. From being flat broke in segregated Baltimore to living in a mansion with servants of his own, he becomes the toast of a city obsessed with music, money, pleasure and power, even as it ignores the rising winds of war.
Song Yuhua is refined, educated, and bonded since age eighteen to Shanghai’s most powerful crime boss in payment for her father’s gambling debts. Outwardly submissive, she burns with rage and risks her life spying on her master for the Communist Party.
Only when Shanghai is shattered by the Japanese invasion do Song and Thomas find their way to each other. Though their union is forbidden, neither can back down from it in the turbulent years of occupation and resistance that follow. Torn between music and survival, freedom and commitment, love and world war, they are borne on an irresistible riff of melody and improvisation to Night in Shanghai’s final, impossible choice.
In this impressively researched novel, Nicole Mones not only tells the forgotten story of black musicians in the Chinese Jazz age, but also weaves in a stunning true tale of Holocaust heroism little-known in the West.
Guest Post by Nicole Mones
I first found out about the Chinese jazz age when Andrew Jones, a historian at Berkeley, put out a scholarly book called Yellow Music. Yellow Music was a popular Shanghai song form of the 1930s, a hybrid of the American jazz played by black expat musicians, and the local singing style that had been popular in Shanghai’s brothels since the late Qing Dynasty. Yellow Music became volatile politically—you can hide a lot of things in a song, which was why this professor wrote a book about it.. But my mind was totally blown by something else--these black expat musicians! Who were they? How did they get to China? What happened to them when they arrived?
Few Americans know that in the 1930s, when swing was the most popular music in the world, and ballrooms were opening up everywhere, Chinese scouts came to the west coast of the U.S. to recruit jazz musicians, individually and in whole swing orchestras. Nowhere was the scene in Asia hotter than in Shanghai, where the city was mad for dancing, and jazz ruled. And nowhere did jazz have a greater influence, either, because Shanghai was where film scores and 78s were recorded too, and those sounds went everywhere. Jazz was dissonant, naughty; it broke the rules and bent the scale toward what was blue. It stretched hearts and minds. In that way, it played a role in modernizing China, which had been feudal until 1911. These musicians did all that, and had a roaring adventure besides—how could I not write about it?
When I went looking, I was surprised to find that a number of first person accounts existed—memoirs, interviews, and letters by jazz musicians or other notables who were in Shanghai at the time. Much had been set down and recorded by those who were there, but no one had ever connected it, and made it into a novel, or film, or even a magazine article. If there was one light-bulb moment for me, it was coming across this recollection by Langston Hughes, who visited Shanghai in the mid-1930s:
I reached the international city of Shanghai in July, with the sun beating down on the Bund, the harbor full of Chinese junks, foreign liners and warships from all over the world. It was hot as blazes. I didn’t know a soul in the city. But hardly had I climbed into a rickshaw than I saw riding in another along the Bund a Negro who looked exactly like a Harlemite. I stood up in my rickshaw and yelled, “Hey, man!”
He stood up in his rickshaw and yelled, “What ya sayin’?” We passed each other in the crowded street, and I never saw him again.
I Wonder as I Wander
From there research led me to the most incredible things. For one thing, you can’t write portray wartime Shanghai without writing about the Holocaust, since at least 25,000 Jews survived the Nazi death machine by taking refuge there. So I expected the Shanghai ghetto to become part of the novel, along with the inspiring and true story of Ho Feng-Shan, the “Chinese Schindler,” who, as Chinese Consul in Vienna, saved thousands of Jewish lives by writing fake visas to Shanghai.
This Holocaust story, of the Shanghai ghetto, I expected to include, and I did. But then my researcher, Daniel Nieh, stumbled upon something to incredible in a Chinese military history database that everything stopped while he verified it and translated documents, and I rewrote the novel. Here it is: in April 1939, the Nationalist Government, then headquartered in Chongqing, passed a law creating The Jewish Resettlement Plan. They set aside several counties in Yunnan Province, bordering Burma, to create a Jewish resettlement zone that would bring in 100,000 Jewish refugees from Europe for permanent residence, ensuring the survival of at least this cross-section of European Jewry. It was also hoped that this grand humanitarian gesture would secure the help of the U.S. and Britain in resisting Japan. The Jewish Resettlement Plan was launched; large amounts of money were raised and spent, and at least two lives were lost before Chiang Kai-shek finally caved in to pressure from Hitler and canceled the Plan. One can only imagine how different the world would be today if 100,000 European Jews had been permanently settled between China and Burma in 1939. Magically enough, one of the prime movers behind the Jewish Resettlement Plan, H.H. Kung, was already a minor character in Night in Shanghai, so bringing this forgotten humanitarian drama into the novel was quite natural.
At its heart, Night in Shanghai is the story of a pianist from Baltimore, Thomas Greene, who leaves behind a life of poverty and segregation to find wealth, respect, position, and even love when he is recruited to play in China. After the Japanese invasion, he struggles just to survive. World War II and the Holocaust erupt around him, and pull his love away from him. It’s one man’s story, but through the magic of historical fiction it becomes something larger…and a view of the war different from any you have seen before. That’s Night in Shanghai.
Praise for Night in Shanghai
“Based on true episodes and peppered with the lives and experiences of actual characters from the worlds of politics, music, the military, and the government, Mones’ engrossing historical novel illuminates the danger, depravity, and drama of this dark period with brave authenticity.” — Carol Haggas, Booklist
“Mones’ breathless and enlightening account of an African-American jazzman and his circle in prewar Shanghai…keep(s) the suspense mounting until the end.” — Kirkus Reviews
“Amid the plethora of World War II fiction, Mones’s fourth novel (after The Last Chinese Chef) offers a rarely seen African American and Asian perspective. Fans of works such as Amor Towles’s Rules of Civility will appreciate the use of jazz as the backdrop to a world at war. Historical fiction fans will not be disappointed.” — Library Journal
“With a magician’s sleight of hand, Nicole Mones conjures up the jazz-filled, complex, turbulent world of Shanghai just before World War II. A feast for the senses…the lives and loves of expatriate musicians intertwine with the growing tensions between the Communist Party and the Nationalist Party, while the ominous threats from the Japanese stir the winds of war. A rich and thoroughly captivating read.” – Gail Tsukiyama, author of The Samurai’s Garden
“What an incredible thing Mones does in this novel of the compelling, sexy, rich and complicated world of historical Shanghai. Every page reveals some custom, some costume, some food, some trick of language that exposes a fascinating moment in history — the Japanese invasion on the eve of World War II. Mones weaves the multiple strands of her story much the way themes and melodies are woven into the jazz her protagonist plays, with subtle and suggestive undertones of human greed, power, and passion.” – Marisa Silver, author of Mary Coin
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository | Books-A-Million
IndieBound | Powell's
About the Author
A newly launched textile business took Nicole Mones to China for the first time in 1977, after the end of the Cultural Revolution. As an individual she traded textiles with China for eighteen years before she turned to writing about that country. Her novels Night in Shanghai, The Last Chinese Chef, Lost in Translation and A Cup of Light are in print in more than twenty-two languages and have received multiple juried prizes, including the Kafka Prize (year’s best work of fiction by any American woman) and Kiriyama Prize (finalist; for the work of fiction which best enhances understanding of any Pacific Rim Culture).
Mones’ nonfiction writing on China has also appeared in the New York Times Magazine, Gourmet, the Los Angeles Times, and the Washington Post. She is a member of the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations. For more information visit www.nicolemones.com.
Virtual Book Tour Schedule
Review at Ageless Pages Reviews
Tuesday, April 8
Spotlight & Giveaway at The Bookworm
Wednesday, April 9
Review at Flashlight Commentary
Thursday, April 10
Review at Oh, for the Hook of a Book
Friday, April 11
Interview at Oh, for the Hook of a Book
Monday, April 14
Spotlight & Giveaway at A Lovely Bookshelf on the Wall
Tuesday, April 15
Review, Interview, & Giveaway at Drey’s Library
Wednesday, April 16
Review at A Bibliotaph’s Reviews
Friday, April 18
Review & Giveaway at Our Wolves Den
Monday, April 21
Guest Post at Jorie Loves a Story
Review at WTF Are You Reading?
Wednesday, April 23
Review at Jorie Loves a Story
Spotlight & Giveaway at Passages to the Past
Thursday, April 24
Interview at Mina’s Bookshelf
Friday, April 25
Guest Post & Giveaway at Bibliophilia, Please
Monday, April 28
Review at Svetlana’s Reads and Views
Ends at 12:01am EST on May 4th
a Rafflecopter giveaway