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Elisabeth and Theodore Weissberg, famous musicians, Hilde, a young film extra, and Vladek, an Eastern European adventurer wanted by the police on political charges, flee Nazi Germany for Shanghai at the onset of World War II. A magnet for every human ambition and vice, Shanghai is a city of extremes–of dazzling wealth and wretched poverty, suffering and pleasure, and, for the four refugees, exile and safety. There, they enter the world of Jewish refugees, many of them artists and intellectuals, who must either starve or eke out an impoverished and sometimes degraded living, but they are determined to live intelligently, upholding the high culture, humor, and even, insofar as they can, the elegance of their former lives. Master storyteller Angel Wagenstein crafts an intense narrative of life and death, passionate love, and profound courage against the backdrop of the war and the millions of lives caught up in it.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781590513088
Publisher: Other Press, LLC
Publication date: 11/04/2008
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 400
Product dimensions: 8.52(w) x 5.38(h) x 1.19(d)

About the Author

Angel Wagenstein

Angel Wagenstein is a prizewinning Bulgarian novelist. His novel, Isaac’s Torah, has been published in Bulgaria, Germany, Russia, France, the Czech Republic, and is forthcoming from Handsel Books. Farewell, Shanghai, his third novel, won the Jean Monnet award in 2004. Also by this author: Isaac's Torah

Deliana Simeonova

Deliana Simeonova was born in Bulgaria and studied English philology and American literature at the University of Sofia. She has worked for civil-society NGOs in Tajikistan, Serbia, Liberia, and now does that work in her native Bulgaria. Also by this author: Isaac's Torah

Elizabeth Frank

Elizabeth Frank is a Professor of Modern Languages and Literature at Bard College. Also by this author: Isaac's Torah

Read an Excerpt


a novel

Copyright © 2004

Angel Wagenstein
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-59051-308-8

Chapter One IT WAS EARLY IN the evening of November 10, 1938.

The concert in the great hall had begun. The mild light of the crystal chandeliers, dimmed as far as possible, only intensified the bright sparkling flames of the candles attached to the solid red mahogany music stands. Theodore Weissberg was in an immaculate tuxedo-in fact, as is correct at such concerts, all the other members of the Dresden Philharmonic were in tuxedos as well.

Dressed in formal evening clothes, the audience in both the orchestra seats and the boxes was holding its breath. This Symphony No. 45 in F sharp minor is rarely performed, and it had not been easy to get tickets.

On this particular evening, four SS officers had installed themselves in the center box, where long before the Weimar Republic, in the time of the iron chancellor, fürst Otto von Schönhausen, a.k.a. Bismarck, the Hohenzollerns and their entourage used to sit. In the audience's eyes, it was an important sign of the profound changes that had taken place in Germany. The highest-ranking among the officers was Hauptsturmführer Lothar Hassler, a very handsome man, blond and blue-eyed, as if he'd been cut out from one of the torn posters left over from the Berlin Olympics and still hanging on city walls, of the all-conquering Aryan nation. Something about him recalled the masculine, Viking-warrior-type profiles of Leni Riefenstahl's film characters.

The most junior officer, possibly an aide-de-camp or something of that kind, tilted toward Hassler, obligingly offering the open program.

"Allegro assai. I think it means 'rather jolly.'"

"I hope so," Hassler murmured gloomily. "Tonight I hope it will be 'rather jolly.'"

He knew what he was talking about, the Hauptsturmführer; he spoke little, but he always had the exact word for the exact thing.

While the Haydn symphony was pouring out its light and tender "farewell," the last of the naive were also saying farewell to their comfortable illusions about good old Germany-this winter's tale that, in just a few weeks or so, would kick out like dirty kittens the Nazi bums who had just by chance grabbed hold of power.

For it was on exactly this night-the evening of November 10, 1938, Wednesday going on Thursday-that history would bestow the name Krystallnacht-"The Night of Broken Glass" -and this referred not to the crystal chandeliers of the Dresden Konzerthaus, but to the crystal tinkling of broken Jewish shop windows.

Jolly fellows, bloated with beer, were smashing shop windows all over Germany and Austria, which, to the unparalleled enthusiasm of the local population, had recently been annexed. Broken glass windows, under stomping boots, clinked and crunched during this jolly crystal night.

Terrified old Jews hauled out of their beds were being dragged down the streets with cardboard signs hung on their chests: JUDE.

Synagogues were burning-on Fasanenstrasse and Oranienburgerstrasse in Berlin, above Schwedenplatz in Vienna, and in Leipzig, Munich, Frankfurt, and Stuttgart. All through that November night of elegant concerts burned another two hundred synagogues.

Allegro assai-rather jolly!

Lothar Hassler lifted the small opera glasses to his eyes. His gaze swept across the hushed audience and, coming to rest at the box just opposite, lingered on the face of a young woman with golden-copper hair softly illuminated by the barely flickering chandeliers. This was the mezzo-soprano Elisabeth Müller-Weissberg, famous not only in Germany but also on the stages of Carnegie Hall, and wife of the violinist to whom in a moment the bright circles of the opera glasses now shifted.

They remained on him for a long time while the officer examined with curiosity this world-renowned celebrity, a member of the Prussian Academy of Arts, while along the Hauptstrasse there flowed an improvised evening procession by torchlight. The crowd was singing merrily, and at the front, in time to the song, drums were booming:

Auf der Heide blut en Blü-melein Ein! Zwei! Und das heisst E-e-rika....

Exactly there, at the corner, where you could find the famous bookstore Meersohn & Sons, some gay blade came up with the idea of making a bonfire out of the books. Marx, Heine, Freud, Feuchtwanger, Stefan Zweig, Thomas and Heinrich Mann, Bertolt Brecht and Anna Seghers, Friedrich Wolf and Leonhard Frank, Baruch Spinoza and Marcel Proust, Franz Kafka and Henri Bergson all made excellent kindling. Einstein with his quantum structure of radiation threw off a spray of sparks, flying afterward above the flames with his covers spread like wings.

Don't think that these pork butchers and lumpen sots have any idea who you are, Albert. We know-we know very well. Maybe over there, where you managed to slip away just in the nick of time, you might feel sad about what's happening in your former motherland, but we feel cheerful-after all, you yourself say that everything is relative. We're working according to your Jewish formula, Alberto, sorry, but excuse us! Our Energy to smash you equals the Masses that support us, multiplied by the Speed of Light squared, with which we will conquer the world. This is the situation, dear Albert, so farewell! It's time now to find out at last who are the real masters of Germany-the Jews or us!

E=[mc.up.2] fell right into the center of the galaxy of fire and shot out a myriad of mirthful sparks.

Chapter Two TWO ORCHESTRA PLAYERS. THE oboist and the horn player, collected their scores, blew out their candles, and silently left the stage, this being the ritual whenever Haydn's "Farewell" Symphony is performed. But much to their surprise, waiting for them in the wings were some uniformed stormtroopers, who unceremoniously grabbed the musicians and pulled them outside. The two naturally tried to resist and find out what was going on, but some big-shot superior officer with stretched-out breeches and shiny boots put a finger to his smiling lips: shhh, quiet now, don't disturb the concert! And there was no malice in his expression -only a kindhearted, almost friendly look. After all, dear friends, as you yourself understand, this isn't some madhouse of a Jewish synagogue, but a classy concert hall, so let's have, as people say, mutual respect!

Theodore Weissberg, without lifting his bow from the strings, saw through the flames of the candies how, backstage, the brown-shirted thugs were dragging away the two musicians, and threw a confused look at the next violin.

Other musicians had also noticed what was going on, because a slight, almost imperceptible movement shivered through the orchestra. Even so, the concert continued.

For the contrabass and the violoncello, it was their turn now.

The two orchestra players could obviously already guess what was waiting for them, but a concert is, after all, a concert: each of their movements was being followed by the silent, unsuspecting audience. They collected their scores, blew out the candles at their stands, and, throwing a worried and questioning look at the first violin, slipped away a little uncertainly.

Backstage, the story of their colleagues almost repeated itself: "Shhhh! Silence! Respect the Aryan composers!"

The low-ranking officer hovered over the ear of Lothar Hassler:

"It's really scandalous that all these symphony players are Jews!"

"No, not all. Some don't even suspect that their grandmothers are Jews. It's all right. They'll find out. What's really scandalous is how we let Germany be turned into a synagogue.... Quiet. It's his turn now."

The violinist Theodore Weissberg, considered by music critics both here and across the ocean to be one of Germany's most gifted virtuosos, gathered his score, blew out the last candle, and, a little stiffly, walked out. This then was the finale of Joseph Haydn's Symphony No. 45 in F sharp minor-called the "Farewell." After that the stage plunged into darkness.

Some time passed in meditative silence before the crystal chandeliers blazed up and the hall exploded with applause. But the orchestra players did not return to take a bow.

This was the last concert of the Dresden Philharmonic.

Chapter Three UNTIL THE LUNAR NEW year there were still two months to go. Only then could one expect the Japanese authorities to relax their grip, and for relatives to be able at last to visit one another. It was November, according to the Julian calendar. Rotten weather. You could even call it dog's weather, if from the southernmost neighborhoods Longhua and Nanshih to the northern borders of the enormous town, that is to Chapei and Hongku, the stray dogs hadn't long ago been eaten.

The air was chilly and humid, with the sticky smells of frying, canals, and muck. The sea breeze brought no freshness, but rather the stench of the innumerable swamps at the mouth of the river Huangpu, left arm of the great Yangtse, through which the transoceanic ships reached their destinations.

It was getting dark. The hundreds of junks that circled in leisurely fashion around the ship hulls ominously towering above them were already lighting up their paper lanterns. Countless flickering little lights were reflected, lengthened and swinging, in the thick foul waters greasy with oil spots and whole islands of floating filth. Outcrying each other in a language they apparently considered English, hawkers from the junks offered for sale everything they had at their disposal-from vegetables, fruit, and fish to amulets and small gods carved out of buffalo horn and jade.

Leaning over the ship's railing, bored transit passengers stared down from above, not even coming down to the shore, since not only were they alarmed by rumors about pickpockets and professional con artists, but also in an hour or so they would continue their voyage south toward Singapore, Hong Kong, and Macao, and to points even more distant-Manila and Bombay. And the passengers for whom this was the final destination and who were disembarking down the gangplanks of the firmly moored ships weren't in the least concerned with souvenirs, let alone fruit and vegetables. They were primarily passengers from the regular lines of the shipping company in Kobe that ferried back and forth between the continent and the islands Japanese civilians who were constantly on the move-merchants, bank clerks, and representatives from the newly opened branches of big Tokyo firms. Some officials, met by liveried chauffeurs and deputies from the consulates or major banks, were en route to the airport in Longhua in order to continue their journey to the interior by air-to Peking, or even further, to Manchukuo, now controlled by the Japanese. Later, when it became clear that the supply of military vessels was becoming depleted, the steamships carried troop reinforcements for the occupation authorities, here and there with some bespectacled pipsqueak officer full of Samurai confidence.

Far above the docks and the warehouses, the low yellow buildings of Japanese headquarters and the port administration, the shipping agencies, customs and border police, above the cranes and the mountains of packing crates and cargo, beyond the heavy black waters of the river lit up with junks and their swinging lights, the cloudy sky reflected the blurred orange radiance of the hotels and offices situated along the luxurious riverside boulevard known as the Bund. Toward it streamed the dazzling radiance of the International Concession, which the people from the junks had never seen, although ever since childhood they had heard legends about that other, distant, and unknown world of the boulevards.

For they, the people of the junks, were born on the water and lived on the water, while, at the mouth of the river, the shades of their ancestors waded up to their knees in the swampy waters of the rice paddies without their ever having seen up close even once in their lives the splendiferous buildings in English colonial style, the gambling houses, the tennis courts, the gentlemen's clubs, the hotels and the restaurants, in front of whose entrances towering Sikhs in snow-white turbans, curved daggers hanging ominously from their sashes, their legs imperiously spread apart, stood guard.

He was thinking along these lines as he leaned against the ship's rail, chewing his dead Russian "papirosa" cigarette with its thick paper tip, the captain of the rusty and, at least from its external appearance, quite neglected coastal freighter Chelyabinsk, which had experienced, so it seemed, both the Russo-Japanese war of 1905 and the rout at Tsushima as well as the dramatic turns of the October revolution in its Far Eastern version.

The Chelyabinsk, like a slow-moving suburban streetcar creeping along one and the same closed route, was coming from the mouth of the Mekong, where it had been laded with raw rubber from the French plantations of southern Indochina. In Shanghai it was taking on cotton and unprocessed silk that it had to unload in the north in Da-Liang-or Dalnyi, in Russian-before leaving it to its long journey along the Transiberian railway. The captain was gazing indifferently at the dockers who were running upward along the gangplanks carrying huge loads beneath which only their bony feet jutted out, and who were scrambling down again toward the waterfront shouldering flat crates of coarse Siberian cedar, each with its identical, printed sign: Uralmash-USSR.

He did not become particularly concerned when one of the dockers dropped his load and collapsed unconscious on the wet oily deck, probably from hunger, since in only two hours he would receive his fifty Shanghai cents, enough-actually more than enough-for a small bowl of rice with a few leaves of fried leek and a tin cup of green tea. The captain quietly and impassively issued instructions and two sailors carried away the fellow who had fainted to the cabin with a red cross indicated on its oval iron door.

Half an hour later two dockers exited the cabin and no one, neither on board the ship nor on the quai, paid the slightest attention to this minor incident. The two began to make their way down the gangplank, carrying their Uralmash crates, and the infusion of one docker more into the swarming, sweat- and onion-stinking anthill of nameless and faceless humanity didn't change a thing about the huge, multimillion, and chaotic equation of dead-end poverty and immense wealth called Shanghai. Every morning the municipal authorities collected from the streets those who had died of hunger, and one candidate more or less for a similar fate meant nothing as far as the statistics were concerned.

It's been said already that the month was November. The tenth of November, Wednesday going on Thursday. The year: 1938.

Until the outbreak of the Great War in the West, there were nine months and twenty days to go.

Chapter Four HILDE PULLED THE CURTAINS apart at the window and was disappointed at what she saw. She herself didn't know exactly what she had expected, but the view was really very different from both the tourist posters and the hopes of those who had believed in them. The landscape was gloomy, with sooty facades and laundry hung out to dry. Opposite, down below-so low that the hotel seemed perched on top of Mont Blanc-there stretched an infinity of railroad tracks, a crisscrossing tangle of arrows, wires, and signals, abandoned trains and one small lonely locomotive that, from here, looked like a child's toy and was huffing and puffing and lazily chugging hither and yon. The small hotel was just decent enough for travelers with a modest per diem-a hotel with two stars, one of which was burning out.

From here one could see neither the Eiffel Tower, nor Montmartre, nor the Arc de Triomphe, nor the dark silvery surface of the Seine spreading across the town and reflecting the sky. She knew everything even without having seen it: the boulevard Saint-Michel, the Louvre, and Notre Dame; she even felt as if she were personally acquainted with the proprietor of the corner bistro below. She had never been to Paris, but while she was studying French language and literature at Humboldt University in her enraptured, almost voluptuous way-an undertaking that, in the midst of her studies, came to a crashing end on account of the total exhaustion of the miserable inheritance left her by her parents-she had leafed through this amazing city; she had imagined it. She had longed to see it in its real glamor and not just reflected in books and movies, to breathe its air, to hear its sounds, to lick it and savor its taste, to drink a cup of coffee at the corner bistro with that fellow she had dreamed up-the man from Provence who was friendly in a neighborly sort of way: "Good morning, Mademoiselle Hilde-the usual? Coffee and croissant, that's right, isn't it, Mademoiselle Hilde?"


Excerpted from FAREWELL, SHANGHAI by ANGEL WAGENSTEIN Copyright © 2004 by Angel Wagenstein. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Reading Group Guide

1. What are some of the ways the Jews in Shanghai survive psychologically and maintain their dignity? Is humor one of their coping devices?

2. How do the Japanese and Chinese regard the Jews?

3. There is plenty of evidence for the "Law of Universal Disgustingness" in Farewell, Shanghai, but there are also numerous acts of unexpected kindness, generosity, and courage that undermine that law. Does the book give you hope despite its sometimes pessimistic tone?

4. Some of the more fragile characters survive while some of the strongest and most resilient break down. Why do you think this happens? Did the suicides come as a shock?

5. How does Farewell, Shanghai expose the "myth of Jewish solidarity"? Do you believe that Hitler and the Holocaust united Jews from around the world?

6. The narrator expresses cynicism about the leaders of governments in general. Does this seem accurate?

7. Farewell, Shanghai raises the question of whether Roosevelt knew in advance about the attack on Pearl Harbor. Do you think this may have been true? If it was, how do you understand his motivation for not acting on it?

8. Personal friendship overrides national and political allegiance in some cases in Farewell, Shanghai. What are the examples of this? In what sense do you find these ethical or understandable? In what sense do you find them objectionable?

9. What role does music play in Farewell, Shanghai?

10. Does the context of war create a moral ambiguity that produces some surprising actions, with decent people being forced to act against some of their principles while their cruel enemies sometimes act humanely? What seems to be the author's attitude toward the moral challenges of war?

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Farewell Shanghai 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
picardyrose on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Jews tried to find sanctuary in Shanghai. Bad idea.