Kirsty Manning is fictional story but it gave me insight into another piece of history that I didn't know about. Told in dual perspectives, The Song of the Jade Lily is a nuanced portrayal of friendship, parenthood, grief, loss, and love.
The book opens in 1938 Vienna. Young Romy Bernfeld, her parents, and brothers Benjamin and Daniel are outcasts in their homeland. Adolf Hitler has risen to power and is rounding up Jewish people, like Romy and her family, into camps. As difficult as it might be, the Bernfelds' only choice is to flee. But where? And will the whole family be able to make it? After suffering every parents' worst nightmare, only Mr. and Mrs Bernfeld and Romy make it out of Vienna, running away to Shanghai. Once in China, the family finally finds some relief. Mr. Bernfeld puts his skills as a doctor to good use, working at a local hospital. Romy gets to continue her schooling, she often marvels at her good fortune. She even makes friends with a local girl, Li Ho, and her family. With a shared passion for food and alternative medicine, the Bernfelds and the Hos are more like family than friends.
The bond Li and Romy share goes through many ups and downs, both knowing they can count on the other when catastrophe strikes. A bond that will be put to the test as the Japanese rise to power and eventually take over Shanghai.
In modern day Australia, Romy is now an old woman with a dying husband. Her granddaughter, Alexandra, has returned home not just to be with her grandparents but to finally put the pieces of her family's history together. Alexandra's mother, Sophia, has long since passed away but there were always nagging questions about her true heritage. Sophia was adopted and even before her death she wanted to know the truth about her birth parents. A truth that her parents always tap danced around. A truth that not even Alexandra knows. But following the death of her grandfather, Alexandra gets the chance to start over in the very place that was once Romy's salvation -- Shanghai. Professionally, moving to Shanghai offers Alexandra a chance to advance her career. But on the personal side, Alexandra's true mission is to trace her family's history, finally getting the answers her mother never got.
Multi-perspective books are often hit and miss for me. But this was an exception, as it was clear how the past connected to the present. Romy and Alexandra both have strong points of view, each with a compelling story. For both, the past has shaped their present. Without all of the personal strife of the past, neither would be able to be the strong characters they are in the present. This all made for compelling and engrossing read; definitely an author I want to read more of!
Notes: I received a copy of the book from the publisher (William Morrow) as part of a blog tour with TLC Book Tours.