Shanghai 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.