White Shanghai: A Novel of the Roaring Twenties in China by Elvira Baryakina
Published: December 10, 2012
Trade Paperback, 542 pages
This book has all the elements of a fantastic historical novel. The cover is beautiful. The title is captivating. The setting is perfect - exotic Shanghai. The theme is engaging - a boatload of expats fleeing Russia following the Bolshevik Revolution, to begin a new life in China. The era is interesting - the Roaring 20’s.
An historical novel should evoke a time and place for the reader. It should make us feel that we are in the scene. For me there was no feeling of being transported to 1920’s Shanghai, nor any feeling of angst on the part of the Russians fleeing their homeland. The book is about a group of shallow, unconnected (except for the two main characters, Klim and his wife, Nina) individuals living in Shanghai. I tried very hard to like the novel. The titles of the 80 chapters are superb and the pencil sketches throughout are charming! I persevered in reading it for about 150 pages and then gave up.
This book was originally written in Russian and translated into English which may account for the stilted phrases and expressions used. I find it hard to take seriously an historical fiction that uses such expressions as “in your dreams, sweetie” – I really don’t think that was the language of people in the 20’s; or “goodness gracious,” “silly chicken,” “Oh Lord have mercy on us,” as a menu is read; or “The Madam wants to see you,” he barked indifferently. A person can “bark” irritatedly, or irately, or angrily, but not indifferently. Again, this may be the result of translation.
Historical fiction is my favorite genre of book, but sadly, this book neither captured nor retained my interest.
Reviewed by Sandra
Disclosure: Thanks to Yana Kovalskaya from Glagoslav Publications for sending me this book for review. I was not compensated in any other way, nor told how to rate or review this product.