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The Last Rose of Shanghai: A Novel

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There are many more grouses I have but all of those would require leaking of spoilers. So just know, quite a lot of silly things happen in the second half, events that make no sense at all! Too many ad hoc alterations and exaggerations. The second half messed up all the good feelings created in the first 50%. And from Ernest’s perspective, there’s all the usual stuff about how he can’t really offer Aiyi much in terms of a stable future, but even more central to his character is his devotion to his younger sister, and his desire to give her a good life despite their current circumstances. His relationships with Aiyi and with his sister come to a head in a single, tragic moment, and the resulting rift between him and Aiyi afterwards feels both heartbreaking and totally understandable. Aiyi and Ernest met by chance. She was immediately drawn to his beautiful and expressive blue eyes. It was frowned upon for Chinese to socialize with refugees. Ernest found himself in the same club Aiyi was in one night. He somehow found himself playing the piano. Ernest and Aiyi were attracted to each other immediately. Aiyi ended up hiring Ernest to play the piano at her club. He was a talented pianist and he helped restore the popularity and success of her club with his playing. Ernest often played Aiyi’s favorite jazz song, The Last Rose of Shanghai, for her. The two fell in love and began an impossible doomed affair. Aiyi and Ernest had to keep their love a secret. After all, Aiyi was engaged to be married and their affair could ruin her family’s reputation. Through heartbreak, tragedies, danger and prejudice Aiyi and Ernest never lost sight of the love they felt for each other, though.

The Last Rose of Shanghai - Weina Dai Randel - Google Books The Last Rose of Shanghai - Weina Dai Randel - Google Books

Old Shanghai, the city that existed between the two world wars, is a conundrum. Not strictly a colony but rather an International Settlement, a port city forced open by imperialist aggression in 1842 after the first opium war. The part of the city that was sectioned off came under foreign control, its residents subject only to the laws of their home countries. The irony is that as a result of this, Shanghai was to become a refuge during the 1920s and 30s for more than three million Chinese fleeing civil war, warlordism, disease, drought and famine. In the late 30s, it also became a port of last resort for some 30,000 Jewish refugees fleeing fascism in Germany and Austria.There's too much of telling in the writing and yet, many important details aren't told. Time jumps happen like nobody's business. I was totally captivated for the first 20%. I loved the writing, it was metaphorical but not too much that it detracts from the story. While the plot reveals a lot about Shanghai history and culture, it also contains a lot of stereotypes about China. The only person to see Shanghai in a positive light was Ernest. From Aiyi, all we get is cliches.

The Last Rose of Shanghai, by Weina Dai Randel Review | The Last Rose of Shanghai, by Weina Dai Randel

stars. (4 stars for the first quarter, 3.5 for the second quarter, 2 stars for the rest. Hence averaged to 2.8 stars.)

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Another major issue for me was what I saw as a series of historical inaccuracies. The characters can all conveniently talk to one another, often in fluent English, though they all are from different countries. They talk like modern-day people, too, despite the fact that they're supposed to be living 80 years ago and be from different cultures with different levels of formality and ways of speaking. On at least two occasions, a character is said to be eating a bagel with peanut butter. Peanut butter is hard to find in China today, so I can't imagine it was a common thing in 1940s Shanghai. There is a bit at one part near the end of the book where a character is living in a slum with no running water yet has a plastic stool, and plastics weren't really produced until the 1950s.

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