The Far Side of the Sky and Rising Sun, Falling Shadow by Daniel Kalla

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These are the first two books in a trilogy – I’m waiting for a cheap copy of the third to become available on Amazon – about life in Japanese-occupied Shanghai during the Second World War. Some of the principal characters are Chinese, others are Westerners who were working in Shanghai when war broke out and became trapped there, and others, including the “hero” of the series, Dr Franz Adler are Austrian Jewish refugees who, trying to leave Vienna after Kristallnacht, found China willing to give them refuge when so many other countries were not. Franz becomes involved with, and eventually marries, the “heroine”, half-Chinese, half-American nurse Soon Yi Mah, and they both work at a refugee hospital in the face of threats from both the German and Japanese authorities.

The author is a doctor – formerly the head of emergency medicine at a hospital in Vancouver – and there’s a strong medical theme to the books … sort of historical novels crossed with Casualty.  We see the medical staff struggling to cope with both injuries due directly to the war and outbreaks of disease caused by the terrible conditions, as well as the issues caused by shortages of supplies.  We also see them facing ethical dilemmas when Nazi and Japanese officials are brought to the hospital for treatment.  It’s a side of things which isn’t often covered in historical novels, and it’s dealt with very well.

The whole subject matter is an area that isn’t often dealt with in historical novels. I think everyone is aware that the Japanese perpetrated atrocities in China, but it’s something that is perhaps overshadowed by both the horrors of the Holocaust in Europe and the appalling treatment meted out by Japan to Allied POWs.  And the arrival of thousands of Austrian, German and Polish Jewish refugees in wartime Shanghai, and the later creation of a “Restricted Sector for Stateless Refugees” by the Japanese authorities there, certainly isn’t particularly well known.

These aren’t the greatest historical novels you’ll ever read, but they’ll certainly keep your attention, and they’re about something with which most people probably aren’t very familiar … and which happened well within living memory.

2 thoughts on “The Far Side of the Sky and Rising Sun, Falling Shadow by Daniel Kalla

  1. Chris Deeley

    In peacetime Japan is possibly the world’s most civilized country. In wartime atrocities are committed. The Japanese had little sympathy for prisoners of war: their code was to die rather than be taken prisoner. But the most overlooked historical event is the Washington Naval Conference, which paved the way for the demise of the British Empire and the dominance of the USA. Eileen Chang’s novel (and the film) “Lust, Caution” provide a different perspective on Shanghai during the Japanese occupation.

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