Synopses & Reviews
Elisabeth and Theodore Weissberg, famous musicians, Hilde, a young film extra, and Vladek, an Eastern European adventurer wanted by the police on political charges, flee Nazi Germany for Shanghai at the onset of World War II. A magnet for every human ambition and vice, Shanghai is a city of extremes-of dazzling wealth and wretched poverty, suffering and pleasure, and, for the four refugees, exile and safety. There, they enter the world of Jewish refugees, many of them artists and intellectuals, who must either starve or eke out an impoverished and sometimes degraded living, but they are determined to live intelligently, upholding the high culture, humor, and even, insofar as they can, the elegance of their former lives. Master storyteller Angel Wagenstein crafts an intense narrative of life and death, passionate love, and profound courage against the backdrop of the war and the millions of lives caught up in it.
About the Author
Angel Wagenstein is a prizewinning Bulgarian novelist. His novel, Isaacs Torah, has been published in Bulgaria, Germany, Russia, France, the Czech Republic, and is forthcoming from Handsel Books. Farewell, Shanghai, his third novel, won the Jean Monnet award in 2004. Also by this Author - Isaac's Torah
Deliana Simeonova was born in Bulgaria and studied English philology and American literature at the University of Sofia. She has worked for civil-society NGOs in Tajikistan, Serbia, Liberia, and now does that work in her native Bulgaria. Also by this Author - Isaac's Torah
Elizabeth Frank is a Professor of Modern Languages and Literature at Bard College. Also by this Author - Isaac's Torah
Reading Group Guide
1. What are some of the ways the Jews in Shanghai survive psychologically and maintain their dignity? Is humor one of their coping devices?
2. How do the Japanese and Chinese regard the Jews?
3. There is plenty of evidence for the "Law of Universal Disgustingness" in Farewell, Shanghai, but there are also numerous acts of unexpected kindness, generosity, and courage that undermine that law. Does the book give you hope despite its sometimes pessimistic tone?
4. Some of the more fragile characters survive while some of the strongest and most resilient break down. Why do you think this happens? Did the suicides come as a shock?
5. How does Farewell, Shanghai expose the "myth of Jewish solidarity"? Do you believe that Hitler and the Holocaust united Jews from around the world?
6. The narrator expresses cynicism about the leaders of governments in general. Does this seem accurate?
7. Farewell, Shanghai raises the question of whether Roosevelt knew in advance about the attack on Pearl Harbor. Do you think this may have been true? If it was, how do you understand his motivation for not acting on it?
8. Personal friendship overrides national and political allegiance in some cases in Farewell, Shanghai. What are the examples of this? In what sense do you find these ethical or understandable? In what sense do you find them objectionable?
9. What role does music play in Farewell, Shanghai?
10. Does the context of war create a moral ambiguity that produces some surprising actions, with decent people being forced to act against some of their principles while their cruel enemies sometimes act humanely? What seems to be the author's attitude toward the moral challenges of war?