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Ten Green Bottles: The True Story of One Family's Journey from War-Torn Austria to the Ghettos of Shanghai

Ten Green Bottles: The True Story of One Family's Journey from War-Torn Austria to the Ghettos of Shanghai

4.7 9
by Vivian Jeanette Kaplan

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To Nini Karpel, growing up in Vienna during the 1920s was a romantic confection. Whether schussing down ski slopes or speaking of politics in coffee houses, she cherished the city of her birth. But in the 1930s an undercurrent of conflict and hate began to seize the former imperial capital. This struggle came to a head when Hitler took possession of neighboring


To Nini Karpel, growing up in Vienna during the 1920s was a romantic confection. Whether schussing down ski slopes or speaking of politics in coffee houses, she cherished the city of her birth. But in the 1930s an undercurrent of conflict and hate began to seize the former imperial capital. This struggle came to a head when Hitler took possession of neighboring Germany. Anti-Semitism, which Nini and her idealistic friends believed was impossible in the socially advanced world of Vienna, became widespread and virulent.

The Karpel's Jewish identity suddenly made them foreigners in their own homeland. Tormented, disenfranchised, and with a broken heart, Nini and her family sought refuge in a land seven thousand miles across the world.

Shanghai, China, one of the few countries accepting Jewish immigrants, became their new home and refuge. Stepping off the boat, the Karpel family found themselves in a land they could never have imagined. Shanghai presented an incongruent world of immense wealth and privilege for some and poverty for the masses, with opium dens and decadent clubs as well as rampant disease and a raging war between nations.

Ten Green Bottles is the story of Nini Karpel's struggles as she told it to her daughter Vivian so many years ago. This true story depicts the fierce perseverance of one family, victims of the forces of evil, who overcame suffering of biblical proportion to survive. It was a time when ordinary people became heroes.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“Spellbinding . . .evocative . . . remarkable achievement. China experience.....sets this book apart” —Publisher's Weekly

“Riveting . . . moving and memorable” —Kirkus Reviews

“Kaplan's prose is simply stunning . . . Kaplan's descriptions bring wartime Shanghai, its people and smells, to life . . . Although nonfiction, Ten Green Bottles reads like a novel. Kaplan captures the mood and feelings of her mother experiences as if they were her own.” —Canadian Jewish News

“Kaplan writes in the first-person voice of her mother . . . a decision that gives her book an emotional power and vivid immediacy.” —Maclean's

“Her powerful, harrowing story grips the reader. In an odyssey of horrors that takes place over a decade . . . what shines through is the family's indomitable will to survive.” —Ottawa Citizen

Publishers Weekly
For a brief period between 1938 and 1941, roughly 20,000 Jews found refuge from the Nazis in the one place not requiring visas, police certificates or proofs of financial independence: Shanghai. In this spellbinding memoir, Kaplan recounts her family's transition from the "delight" of Vienna to "a mysterious blob on the map, China." Writing in a fictional present tense, Kaplan narrates this evocative, moving saga in the voice of her mother, Nini. The halcyon early years of cafes and skiing end as the Nazis rise to power. Still, in 1936 when Nini meets her future husband, Poldi, a Polish refugee, she is "adamant that [persecution of Jews] could never happen here." It does. By 1939, her family will make the month-long, 7,000-mile journey to Shanghai. Amid "pervasive poverty... overpowering heat... [and] strange faces," Nini and Poldi find an anxious and precarious normality, but after Pearl Harbor, they struggle terribly. With the war's end comes the shock of learning what became of family and friends left behind in Europe. Although Vienna is rebuilt and a daughter (the author) is born, Communist troops arrive, and Nini and Poldi move again, this time to Canada. Kaplan's intimate knowledge of her parents' story makes it seem as if she experienced it herself, and her remarkable achievement will make readers feel that way, too. Agent, Barry Kaplan. (Nov. 10) Forecast: Although there is a ton of Holocaust literature, the China experience is not as well mined, which sets this book winner of the Canadian Jewish Book Award apart. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
One of the great, tragic epics of the last century was the odyssey of Jewish families from Hitler's Europe to relative safety in Japanese-occupied Shanghai in the late 1930s. (The Japanese were not anti-Semites, though when war broke out they were happy enough to accommodate their Fascist allies.) This beautifully composed and engrossing memoir relates the story of the author's mother, who traveled from 1920s Austria to Shanghai and eventually settled in Canada. Kaplan, winner of the Canadian Jewish Book Award in Biography/Memoir, brings the history of the period to life as she shows how the family adapted to each development. Somehow, as in The Diary of Anne Frank, the outcome of this tale is uplifting and instructive, showing us that nobility endures despite political oppression, war, poverty, disease, and human pettiness. Although the general historical facts are well known, this is a worthwhile retelling of a story that each new generation should hear. Recommended for larger public libraries.-Charles W. Hayford, Northwestern Univ., Evanston, IL Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Riveting account of a family who fled the Nazis only to endure further persecution in Shanghai. Characterizing her work-winner of the Canadian Jewish Book Award-as "a memoir in the creative non-fiction genre," the author, who was born in Shanghai and now lives in Canada, tells the story in the voice of her mother, Nini Karpel, the youngest daughter of a prosperous and patriotic Viennese department-store owner. Her father died suddenly in 1922 when Nini was six, leaving her mother responsible for the business as well as their four children. Life went on more or less as usual, but the political situation was of increasing concern. In 1936, Nini fell in love with Poldi Kosiner, the son of Polish refugees, but he could find work only in Italy, and they had to continue their romance by correspondence. When the Nazis annexed Austria in 1938, the Karpels were immediately affected by the new anti-Jewish laws; their business and assets were seized, relatives were beaten, and they feared for their lives. Learning that refugees were welcome in Shanghai, Nini, acting on her own, approached a gentile lawyer, who bought their tickets for the long voyage to China. Her courageous initiative helped save her mother and siblings; with travel arrangements in place, the Karpels were able to obtain exit visas. Once in Shanghai, a place quite unlike any they had ever known, they were joined by Poldi, who came overland. Richly evoking the city's sights and smells, Nini's narrative details their struggle to find work; the arrival of the Japanese, who made Jews live in Shanghai's rundown Hongkew section; the brief interlude of peace and prosperity when the war finally ended; and then the Communist takeover thatmade it impossible for the family to remain in China. Kaplan closes with their 1949 arrival in Toronto. A moving and memorable portrayal of a less familiar aspect of the Jewish plight during WWII.

Product Details

St. Martin's Press
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.78(w) x 8.52(h) x 1.11(d)

Meet the Author

Vivian Jeanette Kaplan was born in Shanghai, where her parents were married. As her family originated in Vienna, her mother tongue is German. When she was two years old, her parents arrived in Canada, settling in Toronto. She graduated from the University of Toronto, where she studied English, French, and Spanish. She is married and has three sons. For a number of years the family owned and ran a lakeside lodge in Muskoka, north of Toronto. For twenty years she had her own business, Vivian Kaplan Oriental Interiors, an import-export firm with interior design showrooms specializing in décor from the Far East. Ten Green Bottles, which tells her own true family saga, is her first book.

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Ten Green Bottles: The True Story of One Family's Journey from War-Torn Austria to the Ghettos of Shanghai 4.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 9 reviews.
Barbaraketubah More than 1 year ago
About 1/3rd into the ebook right now and reading about a family from a different perspective and how they left Vienna and journeyed to Shanghai. Amazing how resourceful they were in getting away.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The story had a smooth flow and described the plight of the family both in Europe and Vienna. It wasn't one that was very unusual from others that I have read in the past. However, I thought the description of the living areas in Shanghai was very picturesque.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
HALRPH More than 1 year ago
Good biographical story about Nazi Vienna. I never knew Jews emigrated to Shanghai - learned lots. Not too crazy about writing style
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is by far not only one of the best books based on the Holocaust that I've read but one of the best books I've ever read...period! At first you think how lucky this family was to "escape" the war...however you quickly come to learn that they have just been transported from one hell to another. The story of migration to Shanghai during WWII is not often written about and is one worth knowing and understanding. This family and many others overcame horrific circumstances and give a new meaning to the word "survival." The author immediately draws you into the story and she successfully creates an emotional attachment to the characters. I was captivated by every page. My entire book club loved this book and I've recommended it to many other people. Thank you Vivian Kaplan for this beautiful gift!
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is a terrific read. What a story Vivian Kaplan has to tell about her family during the years of the holocaust. I would highly recommend this book to anyone interested in the holocaust. I loved this book and admire this author and her family!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I could not help but be completely immersed in every aspect of this book. At times, I actually had to put the book down ,because it was too emotional to read. I cannot begin to comprehend of the unspeakable tragedy and grief that Vivian's mother Nini saw through her journey ,experienced, or felt. My heart defenitely goes out to the many many people and family member's whose lives were taken at the hands of such an unimaginable tragic circumstance in which their lives were placed. I am extremely touched by the story within this book, and I defenitely recommend this book to anyone who has either suffered as a repercussion of this ordeal,or have had family members that have befallen to the same tragic and untimely fate. This book defenitely tugs at your heart strings, and makes you aware of the amazing plight of the human spirit, against even the most dire and devistating odds.This book is a 10.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Ten Green Bottles is one of the most powerful, emotional, fascinating and beautifully written books I have ever read. Where has this author been? The story begins in the early 1920s in Vienna where a five year old Jewish girl, called Nini, begins to experience what it is to be the youngest of three sisters. It is written in Nini's voice and throughout the book you seem to live every moment of her life as if you were in her skin. You laugh, cry, feel and experience everthing that happens to her as if it were happening to you, yet the book is non-fiction. The story tells of her life in a growing family and the hardships of her mother in raising her children and carrying on their business after her father's death. As Nini grows into her teenage years, your senses are filled with the excitement of Vienna and the thrill of skiing in the mountains nearby. Then the Nazis come and everything changes. As Jews are now considered vermin, they must flee the city or they will surely die. With the help of a gentile lawyer they are able to leave Vienna for Shanghai. On arriving in this no-man's land with almost no money, they find themselves in the middle of another war between China and Japan. Living in squalor and trying to survive, their life is made even more miserable. Japan, an ally of Germany, forces them and about 20,000 other Jews into a small ghetto with over 100,000 of the poorest Chinese. The story tells of their life and the life of the Jewish community as they try to make it through to the end of the war under the most deplorable conditions imaginable. They are eventually liberated by the Americans and stay until the Communist takeover in the late 1940s when they leave. The story ends with their exceptionally well written arrival in the white winter of Canada where they do not have to fear anymore. I read a lot and to me this book was a literary masterpiece. I also learned about a very interesting part of the Holocaust that I had not known.