To Go: 80
11. Behaving Badly — Isabel Wolff
12. The English Patient — Michael Ondaatje
13. Atonement — Ian McEwan
14. One Fifth Avenue — Candace Bushnell
15. Daughters-in-Law — Joanna Trollope
16. From the Secret Files of J Edgar Hoover — Athan Theoharis
17. Casino Royale — Ian Fleming
18. Into the Heart of the Country — Pauline Holdstock
19. The Uncoupling — Meg Wolitzer
20. The Far Side of the Sky — Daniel Kalla
On November 9th, 1938 — Kristallnacht — the Nazis carry out a shocking attack upon the Jewish citizens of Germany and Austria. Franz Adler, a secular Austrian Jew and surgeon, witnesses the wave of anti-Semitic violence first-hand when his brother is lynched in the street by a mob of Storm Troopers. Heartbroken that Vienna is no longer the beloved, cultural city of his youth, Franz is desperate to find safety for himself and his family. But, like others seeking to escape the Nazi threat, he finds only closed doors at the embassies.
A glimmer of hope comes when Franz learns that European Jews are able to travel without visas — although at great expense — to Shanghai, the cosmopolitan “Paris of the East.” The international city becomes the last heaven for many thousands of European Jews seeking to flee the Third Reich. After a harrowing escape from Vienna, Franz and his family pin their hopes on China and set off on a risky journey that will take them to an unknown future halfway around the world.
In Shanghai, Franz meets an enigmatic Eurasian nurse, Soon Yi “Sunny” Mah. Half-Chinese and half-American, the compassionate, headstrong Sunny is an outsider in her own culture and hometown — not least because her father, a forward-thinking doctor, has furnished her with an education deemed unsuitable for a woman. Franz’s fate and Sunny’s are intertwined as tensions rise in Shanghai following the Japanese alliance with Germany and the violent occupation of the city. With Japanese soldiers lurking on every corner and the threat of starvation, disease and internment hanging over Shanghai’s citizens and its Jewish population, Franz is torn between his family’s security and his heart.
That was a very long synopsis. The review starts here!
Okay, firstly I have to point out how beautiful that cover is. It’s just stunning and eye-catching and wonderful. Also, fun fact: Daniel Kalla’s Canadian. Yay for Canadian literature!
Anyway, The Far Side of the Sky was as ridiculously long as its synopsis, but it never felt like it. I was hooked from the first page, and the plot moved like a train. Every scene was a perfect mix of necessary action and rich, but not overwhelming, description and detail. I never felt bogged-down or like nothing was happening.
I was really impressed (if not, you know, totally grossed out) by the surgery scenes. Kalla is a surgeon as well, and it showed here — the vividness was really impressive (as was the fact that I actually understood what was going on). I even had sympathy pains for the people under the knife. (Daniel Kalla, the soles of my feet do not thank you for that.)
The characters were really wonderfully realized, and Sunny Mah was a kick-ass heroine for the ages. And can I just have my own Franz Adler?
Anyway, since this is also a historical novel I felt I should touch on that. I’ve developed an interest in spy novels and historical novels because of the course I took this semester, History of Espionage, which is one of the big reasons I picked this up. And I think it did a really good job at showcasing a part of the second world war that most people didn’t know about (including me). Also, I was rendered almost catatonic when Adolf Eichmann, one of the orchestrators of the “Final Solution” made multiple appearances in the book. It was a nice (and horrifying) touch.
Read it. Read it, read it, read it. I know I’m only 20 books into my challenge, but I can safely say it’s in this year’s top 5 favourites.
Next book: When I know, you’ll know.