Reviewed by Dan Moore
The Song of the Jade Lily by Kirsty Manning is a robust novel of female friendship and family painted on a world stage through two parallel segments: 1938 -1954 and today. It relates the travails and triumphs of Romy Barfield, a teenage refugee in Shanghai where her family has fled from their native Austria to the only place in the world accepting Jewish refugees in 1938, to modern day Romy Cohen, now a grandmother living in Australia with her visiting granddaughter, Alexandra.
The 1939 Shanghai teenagers, Romy and her friend Nina, who become friends on the voyage from Europe, meet a fascinating local girl named Li. Together they endure first the freedom from persecution, and then the travails of Japanese occupation as World War II rages in the Pacific. The story of girlhood friendship is told amid the polyglot setting of cultures (Jewish Ghetto in a Chinese city), sights, tastes, smells, and family failures and is richly portrayed. What starts out as respite becomes an ordeal as families and friendships are torn apart.
Granddaughter Alexandra arrives in today’s Australia to visit with her grandparents, Romy and Wilhelm Cohen. Of Euro-Asian heritage, Alex is a successful business woman fleeing a relationship gone bad in England and slowly confronts the mysterious past that saw her grandmother come to live in Melbourne. She soon suspects there is more to the story of a mother she never knew, who did not survive much beyond her birth. The uncovering of the mystery, who were her mother and father, leads her to uncover Romy and Nina’s fantastic journey.
Manning’s novel weaves a wonderful story of family loyalties, loves, betrayals, and misfortunes as the lives of refugees, local Chinese, and foreign occupiers coexist in a turbulent time. Alex’s discovery of her grandmother’s ‘secret life’ forms an unwavering bond that transcends six decades.
Dan Moore is a retired US Navy captain living in Davenport, IA. He has traveled the world not only during his 27 years of active service in the submarine service, but also in the two and half decades since his retirement. A self-taught writer, he has penned several short stories and poems that have been published in trade journals, and is currently in the process of seeking publication for his four adventure novels.