Sunday, October 27, 2013

Book review: Rising Sun, Falling Shadow by Daniel Kalla, set in WWII Shanghai

Daniel Kalla's Rising Sun, Falling Shadow creates a harrowing yet engrossing portrait of a city in crisis from the first page going forward.  The plot centers on a tightly connected group of family members and their friends and allies, all of whom endure the increasingly constrained conditions in Japanese-occupied Shanghai over the course of a year, beginning in January 1943.

Although it can be read as a sequel to The Far Side of the Sky, I found that it worked well on its own, too.  The author quickly gets readers caught up with the characters, their back stories and very human dilemmas, and the roles each of them has in this wide-ranging saga. 

Franz Adler, a talented Jewish surgeon with painful memories of Kristallnacht in Vienna, is forced to relocate his family to a one-bedroom flat in the Designated Area for Stateless Refugees known informally as the "Shanghai Ghetto."  Over 20,000 others join them in this small, already overcrowded section of the city, and Kalla evokes the strength of these distressed people, who maintain their cultural traditions and keep their lives moving ahead amid challenging circumstances.

Franz struggles to perform operations in the Jewish refugee hospital amid dwindling supplies, while his Eurasian wife Soon Yi (Sunny), a nurse and native Shanghailander, gets drawn into the dangerous plans of the underground Resistance. In the grips of her first teenage crush, Franz's daughter Hannah doesn't realize she's being used as a pawn in a smuggling scheme.

Shanghai's American and British residents are being herded into internment camps, Japanese resentment against the Jews is increasing, and tensions rise between Japanese officials and visiting Nazis. Then, when a wounded Chinese man of some importance is brought to the Adlers for treatment, they make a courageous choice that puts them all at significant risk.

Even under siege, the multicultural and once-cosmopolitan Shanghai continues to fascinate even as the situation there becomes more dire.  By May of '43, there's little left to eat but rice, and people line up before meals for ladles of boiling water.

The pacing is brisk throughout, and the novel takes on even more of the characteristics of a thriller as the sense of danger becomes more imminent and the many separate plot strands unite. I was already predisposed to reading it because of its uncommon historic setting, and the swift-moving plot was an unexpected bonus.

I regret somewhat not reading The Far Side of the Sky initially, only because some events from the first book are by necessity revealed in the second, but even so, I look forward to revisiting these characters there, and in the final book as well.  While this one ends on a hopeful and satisfying note, there's clearly still much more story to be told.

Rising Sun, Falling Shadow was published in September by Forge ($27.99, hb) and HarperCollins Canada (Can$24.99, trade pb). The Far Side of the Sky is also available from Forge ($26.99 hb/$7.99 pb) and HarperCollins Canada (Can$24.99, trade pb). Thanks to the author's publicist for sending me an ARC at my request.

There's still a chance to win a copy of this novel if you haven't already entered.  The giveaway at the end of the author's guest post is open through Monday, 10/28.


  1. I've been interested in this book since I first heard about it, but didn't realize there was an earlier book. Great review! I think I'll look up The Far Side of the Sky for starters. :)


  2. Hope you enjoy it too. I'm going to read the first book as soon as I get a chance!

  3. ps - What a great blog! Just added it to my bloglovin feed :)

  4. We found this novel via your blog for our website, which is great. Superb review, thank you. Shanghai in WW2 - certainly was a surprise to learn new details about this city's role in the war...

    1. Nice concept for a website - helping readers find books by location. Thanks for commenting!