Excerpt from Night in Shanghai by Nicole Mones, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Night in Shanghai

A Novel

by Nicole Mones

Night in Shanghai by Nicole Mones
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  • First Published:
    Mar 2014, 288 pages
    Paperback:
    Jan 2015, 288 pages

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Disorder Within,
Disaster Without

The years before the war forced everyone in Shanghai to choose: Nationalists or Communists? Resist the Japanese invaders or collaborate with them? Even passivity became a choice, a gamble, a hand consciously played. As for me, Song Yuhua, my hand was forced—I belonged to Du Yuesheng, and though I served him in public, through my education, rather than in private, as did other women, I was his indentured property, to do with as he pleased until my thirty-third birthday. Only in my secret mind was I free, so it was there, naturally, that I staked everything of my life that mattered.

It was 1936; war was coming. Conflict with foreign powers had been eating at China for a century, since the Opium Wars first partitioned port cities such as Shanghai into foreign-controlled districts. We had already grown accustomed to being colonized, but then Japan's southward expansion from its base in Manchuria turned into an all-out invasion. The Japanese ate up more and more of the northeast, and drew dangerously close to Peking, yet still Chiang Kai-shek did not fight them. His Nationalist armies fought only the Communists, who he believed posed the greater threat. When the Imperial Army pushed hard enough, he simply withdrew and conceded territory to Japan. The wrath of heaven and the resentment of men could be felt everywhere. To so many of us, Chiang's policy, "first internal pacification, then external resistance," seemed like treason.

What choice did I have? I joined his enemies on the left, so secretly it was ren bu zhi, gui bu jue, neither known by man nor felt by ghosts. At last I was living for something, and by then I didn't care if it led to punishment or even death. I knew I was going to die anyway, maybe in the war that was about to engulf me and Lin Ming and Thomas Greene, or maybe, if my secret was betrayed, at the wrong end of a gun in some Shanghai alley. For all the glitter of its golden era, the city during those years dealt death and life in equal measure.

Ye Shanghai was what everyone called that time and place—Night in Shanghai, after the popular song by Zhou Xuan. It was a world of pleasure, permission, and nightlife, which was destined to evaporate the moment Shanghai fell to Japan. Jazz was the sun around which this paradise revolved, the rhythm that drove its nights, and agents like my brother Lin Ming made it possible by recruiting jazz men from across the sea and managing their lives in Shanghai. Those were the years of the great black orchestras from America who filled the ballrooms, bringing a marvelous sound that had never been heard in China before. For years after the Americans were gone, people remembered them, especially Thomas Greene. I used to hear people say they'd heard him play, or they'd danced to his orchestra, or they had it on good authority that he had been born in a cotton field. I knew all this was nonsense, and kept quiet, for almost no one really knew him. I did, knew him and loved him, more than this life would ever allow me to love any other. This was the one secret I never gave up.

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Thomas greene awakened on his first morning in Shanghai to the creaking wheels of a cart and a man's low-pitched singing call. For a long and dearly held moment he thought he was young again, back in Baltimore, with his mother still alive, hearing the cry of the strawberry man who brought his mule-clopping cart up Creel Street in the summer. But then he felt the snap of winter air against his face, and he remembered he was under silk quilts, in China.

The cry sounded again, this time answered by the crowing of neighborhood chickens. He slid out, shivered over to the French doors, and parted the curtains to look down. It was a night soil collector, his musical cry opening doors up and down the lane as housewives set out their night stools. Thomas's house had modern plumbing and pull-chain lavatories and many other extravagances since, as Lin Ming had put it the day before when they'd pulled up to the place in a motorcar, the Kings were one of the most popular orchestras in Shanghai, and he was their bandleader.

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Excerpted from Night in Shanghai by Nicole Mones. Copyright © 2014 by Nicole Mones. Excerpted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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