East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

Leaving Shanghai for a while


GoddamnedShanghai1I’ve been too long in Shanghai – in my head, at least.
The research and the writing of my book have caused me to spend many hours, daily, thinking about Shanghai in the ’30s, reading about Shanghai in the ’30s, writing about Shanghai in the ’30s.
Lucky me, only the first half of the novel takes place in that city*.

I realized I need to take a break from Shanghai two or three days back, as I sat down to read a novel called – you guessed it – Shanghai.

5124Cy68EzL._SS500_Written by Barth Jules Sussman, and set in 1945, Shanghai is a historical potboiler – intrigue and passion in the city occupied by the Japanese in the last days of the Second World War.
The book was originally published by Signet in 1980, and is now available as a Kindle reissue.
The book is very much a product of its time: it’s a sort of James Clavell-esque historical novel, the kind that might get turned into a TV mini-series or a summer date movie.
If you can get past the fact that most of the characters are rather unsavory types – war profiteers, corrupt Japanese officers, a Nazi on the run – the novel is a fine example of what is sometimes called a “beach novel”, and I mean this without disrespect – this is entertainment, and a fine, if melodramatic, romp it is.
Only, the backlog of information clogging my brain got in the way of my enjoyment.
I caught a wrong date, say ten pages in the book. It was a first signal.
Some details are off.
Addresses don’t match.

And mind you – anyone mentioning this kind of things to me, dissing the novel, would get a big laugh.
It’s a novel, for goodness sake, not a guidebook or a historical handbook!
And yet, I keep checking the facts instead of enjoying the ride.

So, I guess I’ll get back to this at a later time – when my mind is a little less crowded with street-names, buildings, dates and names.

First step in my Shanghai detox – reading a good paleontology book about Neanderthals.

* If there will be a sequel, on the other hand, it will be exclusively set in Shanghai, so there you are.

Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

2 thoughts on “Leaving Shanghai for a while

  1. If I want to read a good book on the history of pre war Shanghai, what would you recommend?


    • A good starting point for a general reader could be “Shanghai: The Rise and Fall of the Decadent City 1842-1949”, by Stella Dong; this one is also easily available and relatively cheap.
      Harriet Sergeant’s “Shanghai” is another very good general history of the city between the wars, written for the general public, but might be out of print.
      Hanchao Lu’s “Beyond the Neon Lights: Everyday Shanghai in the Early Twentieth Century” is also extremely good, but more specialized and academical in tone (and more expensive).
      Thee 1934-1935 Shanghai Guidebook reprinted by Earnshaw Books is extremely fun and terribly informative as a snapshot of the city in a very tight time-frame.


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