In 2016, fleeing London with a broken heart, Alexandra returns to Australia to be with her grandparents, Romy and Wilhelm, when her grandfather is dying. With only weeks left together, her grandparents begin to reveal the family mysteries they have kept secret for more than half a century. In 1939, two young girls meet in Shanghai, the ‘Paris of the East’: beautiful local Li and Viennese refugee Romy form a fierce friendship. But the deepening shadows of World War Two fall over the women as Li and Romy slip between the city’s glamorous French Concession and the desperate Shanghai Ghetto. Eventually, they are forced to separate ways as Romy doubts Li’s loyalties. After Wilhelm dies, Alexandra flies to Shanghai, determined to trace her grandparents’ past. As she peels back the layers of their hidden lives, she begins to question everything she knows about her family – and herself. A compelling and gorgeously told tale of female friendship, the price of love, and the power of hardship and courage to shape us all.
The book starts in Vienna in 1938 with Romy Bernfeld and her family attempting to flee Hitler’s reign and hatred towards the Jewish people. Unfortunately, immigrating to other countries in Europe turns out to be much harder than the family anticipated, so after suffering a horrible tragedy Romy and what’s left of her family is finally able to leave Europe and immigrate to Shanghai, China.
The Song of The Jade Lily is a story told in the third person with alternating chapters between 1938 and 2016 Australia. In 1939 we are introduced to Li, a beautiful Chinese girl who becomes Romy’s best friend. We follow their childhood, their troubles, and the horrors of war that loom over them. 2016, Alexandra leaves London to be with her grandmother Romy and her dying grandfather Wilhelm. Alexandra is determined to find the truth about the heritage of her adoptive mother, Sophia.
There were many beautiful parts of this book that I adored. I knew very little about Jewish refugees in China and was delighted to learn more about it. At times I felt the book’s alternating chapters format, and short chapters broke the flow of the narrative a bit. There were many characters introduced at the same time, which made it confusing at times.
Overall, Manning managed to magically weave this beautiful and compelling story of love, loyalty, secrets, and friendship amidst World War II.
I’d like to thank TLC Book Tours for providing me a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.
About Kirsty Manning
Kirsty Manning grew up in northern New South Wales, Australia. She has degrees in literature and communications and worked as an editor and publishing manager in book publishing for over a decade. A country girl with wanderlust, her travels and studies have taken her through most of Europe, the east, and west coasts of the United States as well as pockets of Asia. Kirsty’s journalism and photography specializing in lifestyle and travel regularly appear in magazines, newspapers, and online. She lives in Australia.