Summary and book reviews of Night in Shanghai by Nicole Mones

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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Book Summary

In this stunningly researched novel, Nicole Mones not only tells the forgotten story of black musicians in the Chinese jazz age, but also weaves in a startling true tale of Holocaust heroism little-known in the West.

In 1936, classical pianist Thomas Greene is recruited to Shanghai to lead a jazz orchestra of fellow African-American expats. From being flat broke in segregated Baltimore to living in a mansion with servants of his own, he becomes the toast of a city obsessed with music, money, pleasure and power, even as it ignores the rising winds of war.

Song Yuhua is refined and educated, and has been bonded since age eighteen to Shanghai's most powerful crime boss in payment for her father's gambling debts. Outwardly submissive, she burns with rage and risks her life spying on her master for the Communist Party.

Only when Shanghai is shattered by the Japanese invasion do Song and Thomas find their way to each other. Though their union is forbidden, neither can back down from it in the turbulent years of occupation and resistance that follow. Torn between music and survival, freedom and commitment, love and world war, they are borne on an irresistible riff of melody and improvisation to Night in Shanghai's final, impossible choice.

In this stunningly researched novel, Nicole Mones not only tells the forgotten story of black musicians in the Chinese jazz age, but also weaves in a startling true tale of Holocaust heroism little-known in the West.

First published in hardcover March 2014. Paperback release Jan 2015

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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 ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
Night in Shanghai by Nicole Mones

Choose now: a life of love with the person of your dreams or a life dedicated to the cause you hold most dear.

Just before the outbreak of World War II, African-American musician Thomas Greene arrives in Shanghai to lead a jazz orchestra. Song Yuhua, a translator, tutored in English since childhood, works for crime boss Du Yuesheng as an indentured servant in payment for her father's gambling debt. Thomas, who struggled merely to survive in the segregated South, finds in Shanghai an opulent world unlike any he has ever known, where at last he has the freedom to play on an equal stage. Song also longs for freedom, and can find it only by secretly joining the Communist Party and spying on her master&#...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!

Some of the recent comments posted about Night in Shanghai. Join the discussion! You can see the full discussion here.

"Mones relates life to music throughout the novel. Have you ever had a metaphor or discipline through which you viewed all of life, even for a time?
Classical music and literature have served this function for me at most time of my life. - juliaa

Ask The Author
Q. What led you to end the story the way you did? Are you perhaps contemplating a sequel? A. I ended Night in Shanghai the way I did because that is the way it would have happened. Expected or not, it was inevitable. Its roots were there from ... - juliaa

Did the novel's fidelity to true events affect your perception of the story? Do you think there is something different about a story based on true events?
Melindah hits it on the nose. Really good historical fiction stays as close as possible to "the facts" and uses fictional characters to provide dimension and interpretation to actual events. I think Mones does a terrific job of creating charters ... - laurap

Do you ever listen to music to feel connected to another time? To what times and places does music carry you back?
Absolutely. I'm part of my high school reunion-planning committee and we play 80's hair band music to keep us amped for the event. Yes, I wrote that out loud. It was music that will always be the soundtrack to our formative years. - ABeman

Do you think Thomas confronting the German was effective? It can be difficult to talk back to someone who expresses prejudice. What would you have said?
The confrontation was brave of Thomas, but not likely effective with someone as prejudiced as that German. I like to think I would have said something similar. It is important to raise one's voice against injustice of any kind. In some way, Thomas... - juliaa

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Reviews

Media Reviews

June J. McInerney, authorexposure.com

An entertainingly engrossing story of love, life and passion couched in an enlightening, erudite exposé of the nuanced historical events that culminated in World War II. A novel to be savored...and remembered for a long time.

January Magazine

Mones' genius lies in her attention for detail... Night in Shanghai is a riveting, entertaining and illuminating look at a moment that has been largely lost from history.

Kirkus Reviews

Keeps the suspense mounting until the end.

Library Journal

Historical fiction fans will not be disappointed.

Booklist

Based on true episodes and peppered with the lives and experiences of actual characters from the worlds of politics, music, the military, and the government, Mones' engrossing historical novel illuminates the danger, depravity, and drama of this dark period with brave authenticity.

The West Australian (Perth, Australia)

Real-life historical figures and fictional characters are cleverly intertwined in this gripping story. Shanghai's seedy underbelly is exposed, and woven into the toe-tapping swing of the big-band era...powerful.

The Chronicle (Toowoomba, Queensland)

Mones' beautiful prose and sense of place never loses momentum until the final page and its dramatic surprise ending.

Author Blurb Ben Harper, Grammy Award-winning singer/songwriter.
I LOVED Night in Shanghai. I held hope for the characters even after I finished, I was so deeply connected to them--to me, the sign of a great book.

Author Blurb Gail Tsukiyama, author of The Samurai's Garden
With a magician's sleight of hand, Nicole Mones conjures up the jazz-filled, complex, turbulent world of Shanghai just before World War II. A rich and thoroughly captivating read.

Author Blurb Marisa Silver, author of Mary Coin
What an incredible thing Mones does in this novel of the compelling, sexy, rich and complicated world of historical Shanghai.

Reader Reviews

Mal

Night in Shanghai
The backdrop is affecting, riddled with tension as the future of China hangs in the balance as well as its people. A dual love story taking place in Shanghai 1936 during the Japanese invasion. Mones crafts a riveting story of forbidden love filled ...   Read More

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