Last Boat Out of Shanghai: Book summary and reviews of Last Boat Out of Shanghai by Helen Zia

Last Boat Out of Shanghai

The Epic Story of the Chinese Who Fled Mao's Revolution

by Helen Zia

Last Boat Out of Shanghai by Helen Zia X
Last Boat Out of Shanghai by Helen Zia
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Book Summary

The dramatic real life stories of four young people caught up in the mass exodus of Shanghai in the wake of China's 1949 Communist revolution - a heartrending precursor to the struggles faced by emigrants today.

Shanghai has historically been China's jewel, its richest, most modern and westernized city. The bustling metropolis was home to sophisticated intellectuals, entrepreneurs, and a thriving middle class when Mao's proletarian revolution emerged victorious from the long civil war. Terrified of the horrors the Communists would wreak upon their lives, citizens of Shanghai who could afford to fled in every direction. Seventy years later, members of the last generation to fully recall this massive exodus have revealed their stories to Chinese American journalist Helen Zia, who interviewed hundreds of exiles about their journey through one of the most tumultuous events of the twentieth century. From these moving accounts, Zia weaves together the stories of four young Shanghai residents who wrestled with the decision to abandon everything for an uncertain life as refugees in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and the United States.

Benny, who as a teenager became the unwilling heir to his father's dark wartime legacy, must decide either to escape to Hong Kong or navigate the intricacies of a newly Communist China. The resolute Annuo, forced to flee her home with her father, a defeated Nationalist official, becomes an unwelcome exile in Taiwan. The financially strapped Ho fights deportation from the U.S. in order to continue his studies while his family struggles at home. And Bing, given away by her poor parents, faces the prospect of a new life among strangers in America. The lives of these men and women are marvelously portrayed, revealing the dignity and triumph of personal survival.

Herself the daughter of immigrants from China, Zia is uniquely equipped to explain how crises like the Shanghai transition affect children and their families, students and their futures, and, ultimately, the way we see ourselves and those around us. Last Boat Out of Shanghai brings a poignant personal angle to the experiences of refugees then and, by extension, today.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"Starred Review. Vivid and well-researched, Zia's engrossing work brings this tumultuous period to life." - Publishers Weekly

"Starred Review. The stories of these refugees offer a window into Chinese culture, family life, and the history of this tumultuous period, resulting in a beautiful and emotional work that should be essential reading for those interested in 20th-century Chinese history." - Library Journal

"An absorbing history of a refugee crisis that mirrors current events." - Kirkus

"A true page-turner ... [Helen] Zia has proven once again that history is something that happens to real people." - New York Times bestselling author Lisa See

"Zia's portraits are compassionate and heartbreaking, and they are, ultimately, the universal story of many families who leave their homeland as refugees and find less-than-welcoming circumstances on the other side." - Amy Tan, author of The Joy Luck Club

"A true tale of wartime savagery and difficult moral choices, rich in sweep and detail, this compelling saga is a Chinese Dr. Zhivago." - James Bradley, author of Flags of Our Fathers

"Gripping, magisterial, ambitious, and intimate, Last Boat Out of Shanghai not only depicts a cataclysmic century as it was lived and felt by four very different people, it keeps you on the edge of your seat the whole way. What a tour de force!" - Gish Jen, author of The Girl at the Baggage Claim: Explaining the East-West Culture Gap
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"Last Boat Out of Shanghai deftly weaves together the stories of Chinese displaced by political turmoil into a tapestry that celebrates human determination, resilience, and ingenuity." - Stella Dong, author of Shanghai: The Rise and Fall of a Decadent City

"Impeccably researched and beautifully crafted ... Zia offers a warmly human perspective on one of the most wrenching political transitions of the twentieth century." - Elizabeth J. Perry, Henry Rosovsky Professor of Government at Harvard University and director of the Harvard-Yenching Institute

"War, foreign occupation, revolution, counterrevolution, exile, and new lives: the worst and best times of a remarkable population. Helen Zia tells their stories with clarity, understanding, and empathy... . Unforgettable and moving." - Gordon H. Chang, professor of history and Olive H. Palmer Professor in Humanities, Stanford University

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Author Information

Helen Zia

Helen Zia is the author of Asian American Dreams: The Emergence of an American People, a finalist for the Kiriyama Pacific Rim Book Prize (Bill Clinton referred to the book in two separate Rose Garden speeches). Zia is the co-author, with Wen Ho Lee, of My Country Versus Me: The First-Hand Account by the Los Alamos Scientist Who Was Falsely Accused of Being a Spy. She is also a former executive editor of Ms. magazine. A Fulbright Scholar, Zia first visited China in 1972, just after President Nixon's historic trip. A graduate of Princeton University, she holds an honorary doctor of laws degree from the City University of New York School of Law and lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.

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