Shangai Love by Layne Wong

Shanghai Love Book CoverShanghai Love by Layne Wong is a masterfully crafted love story. It begins with a young, Chinese girl being prepared for her wedding day, a day that has been arranged since she was a mere child. The scene is beautiful, yet sad, and the reader soon discovers that Peilin’s husband-to-be is dead—he died fighting in the war. Peilin, just seventeen, is to be married to a ghost, forced to leave her family, and become a dutiful daughter-in-law to a tyrannical, self-important woman.

The story soon switches to Henri. The year is 1938, and he is a Jew living in Nazi Germany. Henri is a doctor, like his uncle, running an illegal practice for fellow Jews out of his basement. Foolishly, he tells his lover his secret and is chased out of the country to Shanghai.

Their two stories intertwine when Peilin, who has been taught Chinese medicine, is asked to run the herbal shop owned by her new family in Shanghai. It is here that the Western doctor and the Eastern herbalist meet by chance, and their lives change forever. The road is not an easy one, as Peilin is bound to her familial duty and Henri battles prejudice and guilt.

Wong weaves an intricate tale of two people—so different in many ways and yet so similar in others—overcoming numerous obstacles, both internal and external, to find peace with themselves and each other. The characters are extremely well developed; the culture explored in-depth. The amount of detail to both people and beliefs is staggering. The work discusses important themes such as love (both familial and romantic), culture, prejudice, and self-awareness.

Shanghai Love is both entertaining and informative. The reader will come away with a sense of satisfaction with the resolution of the story as well as an appreciation for the culture and time period of the piece. 

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Split at the Root by Catana Tully

Book Cover (3)Split at the Root by Catana Tully is an intricate study of self-identity, social influences, and familial ties. The first story Catana can remember is one Mutti, her German mother, tells about her “birth.” Mutti tells Catana that she floated down the river on a leaf, and that, in that moment, Mutti knew Catana was hers to keep. This is just one of many “fairytales” that Mutti tells Catana about her life (and her history).

Catana was born to Rosa, a Black woman, in Livingston. However, she was raised by a White, German woman, who called her “Mohrle,” or “little Moor.” Catana grows up in a White household, treated as a privileged White. As such, she is uncomfortable around people of color and even begins to hate her birth mother. Throughout her life, she struggles with issues of race, identity, and prejudice. Mutti refuses to acknowledge the deeper issues, preferring to mold Catana into a likable, competent woman, who has “the right frame.”

Catana decides to flout her education and become an actress. Along the way, she meets Fred, and they fall in love and marry. All her life, Catana has been surrounded by White people. She knows next to nothing about her birth mother and even less about her father and the rest of her biological family. On a trip back to her birth village, she begins to get hints that Mutti may not have been telling her the whole truth—words like “stolen child” are thrown around in context to Mutti and Catana’s relationship. As Catana digs deeper, she uncovers secrets about her heritage and her upbringing. Along the way, she must confront her racial identity and all that goes with it.

Tully’s memoir is extremely detailed. She begins with her first memories and continues to the present day. By the end of the tale, it is as if the reader is a part of the family that Catana is trying to piece together. Her story is emotional—full of love, laughter, and even fear. The reader will watch Catana grow up and find her own identity. The story is impossible to put down as Catana attempts to unravel the complicated mystery that surrounds her biological family. It takes many years for her to learn the truth and just as long, maybe longer, for her to know herself. It may be a memoir, but at points, it reads like a detective novel. Even though it is one woman’s life and history, it touches on important racial, societal, and personal identity issues.

The House of Tomorrow by Adair Arlen

The House of Tomorrow coverThe House of Tomorrow by Adair Arlen is a tale of intrigue and romance that keeps the reader guessing until the very end. First, we meet Paul Gregory as he is closing his bar for the night. There is an elegance to this scene as Arlen describes Paul’s interactions with two different women and the ambiance surrounding them. Paul is painted as a suave heartbreaker type.  That night, he dreams of a third woman, who he saw in passing the evening before.

That woman is Lillian Greening. Arlen describes Lily as genuine and pure; she strives to see the good in people and is uncomfortable with deception. She does not know the allure she possesses for men nor the extent of her beauty. That is why she cannot believe it when Sam Meredith, one of the richest and most influential men in town, asks her to meet his family and, later on, become his wife.

Sam Meredith seems to be every woman’s dream—attractive, charming, attentive, and wealthy. And he seems genuinely to love Lily, even though his family disapproves of the match. However, things take an unexpected turn when Paul begins to insert himself into Lily’s life and Sam starts acting sketchy. Paul begins to show an interest in all things to do with Lily (and Sam), but he will not tell her why. And Sam, after proposing, becomes twitchy and distant. What is it about the Meredith family that has everyone speaking in riddles? And why is Lily suddenly of interest to two of the most attractive and mysterious men she’s ever met?

Arlen spins an interesting tale about secrets and how our past effects our present and future. Concentrating less of the details of the mystery, he focuses on the characters involved, giving them elaborate backstories and delving into their emotions. The beginning of the novel is beautifully written as the reader is introduced to the cast and the situation. Some readers may find the middle a tad on the slow side, as the action slows down and it’s mostly internal thought and introspection. But the end is fast-paced and action-packed. The reader will enjoy this story of relationships, both romantic and familial.