Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Night in Shanghai

by Nicole Mones

A new novel by the author of The Last Chinese Chef, a love story between a black musician and a gangster's translator set against Shanghai’s dazzling jazz age and the looming menace of World War II, and "a rich and thoroughly captivating read." (Gail Tsukiyama, author of The Samurai’s Garden)

Format: Hardcover
ISBN-13/ EAN: 9780547516172
ISBN-10: 0547516177
Pages: 288
Publication Date: 03/04/2014
Carton Quantity: 12


In 1936, classical pianist Thomas Greene is recruited to Shanghai to lead a jazz orchestra of fellow African-American expats. From being flat broke in segregated Baltimore to living in a mansion with servants of his own, he becomes the toast of a city obsessed with music, money, pleasure and power, even as it ignores the rising winds of war.

Song Yuhua is refined and educated, and has been bonded since age eighteen to Shanghai’s most powerful crime boss in payment for her father’s gambling debts. Outwardly submissive, she burns with rage and risks her life spying on her master for the Communist Party.

Only when Shanghai is shattered by the Japanese invasion do Song and Thomas find their way to each other. Though their union is forbidden, neither can back down from it in the turbulent years of occupation and resistance that follow. Torn between music and survival, freedom and commitment, love and world war, they are borne on an irresistible riff of melody and improvisation to Night in Shanghai’s final, impossible choice.

In this stunningly researched novel, Nicole Mones not only tells the forgotten story of black musicians in the Chinese jazz age, but also weaves in a startling true tale of Holocaust heroism little-known in the West.

View the Trailer: www.nicolemones.com

Subjects

Historical

Related Subjects

Fiction

Nicole Mones

Nicole Mones is the prizewinning author of three previous novels, The Last Chinese Chef, Lost in Translation, and A Cup of Light, which are published in more than twenty-five countries. Read More


Disorder Within,

Disaster Without

•  •  •

The years before the war forced everyone in Shanghai to choose: Nationalists or Communists? Resist the Japanese invaders or collaborate with them? Even passivity became a choice, a gamble, a hand consciously played. As for me, Song Yuhua, my hand was forced—I belonged to Du Yuesheng, and though I served him in public, through my education, rather than in private, as did other women, I was his indentured property, to do with as he pleased until my thirty-third birthday. Only in my secret mind was I free, so it was there, naturally, that I staked everything of my life that mattered.

   It was 1936; war was coming. Conflict with foreign powers had been eating at China for a century, since the Opium Wars first partitioned port cities such as Shanghai into foreign-controlled districts. We had already grown accustomed to being colonized, but then Japan’s southward expansion from its base in Manchuria turned into an all-out invasion. The Japanese ate up more and more of the northeast, and drew dangerously close to Peking, yet still Chiang Kai-shek did not fight them. His Nationalist armies fought only the Communists, who he believed posed the greater threat. When the Imperial Army pushed hard enough, he simply withdrew and conceded territory to Japan. The wrath of heaven and the resentment of men could be felt everywhere. To so many of us, Chiang’s policy, “first internal pacification, then external resistance,” seemed like treason.

   What choice did I have? I joined his enemies on the left, so secretly it was ren bu zhi, gui bu jue, neither known by man nor felt by ghosts. At last I was living for something, and by then I didn’t care if it led to punishment or even death. I knew I was going to die anyway, maybe in the war that was about to engulf me and Lin Ming and Thomas Greene, or maybe, if my secret was betrayed, at the wrong end of a gun in some Shanghai alley. For all the glitter of its golden era, the city during those years dealt death and life in equal measure.

   Ye Shanghai was what everyone called that time and place—Night in Shanghai, after the popular song by Zhou Xuan. It was a world of pleasure, permission, and nightlife, which was destined to evaporate the moment Shanghai fell to Japan. Jazz was the sun around which this paradise revolved, the rhythm that drove its nights, and agents like my brother Lin Ming made it possible by recruiting jazz men from across the sea and managing their lives in Shanghai. Those were the years of the great black orchestras from America who filled the ballrooms, bringing a marvelous sound that had never been heard in China before. For years after the Americans were gone, people remembered them, especially Thomas Greene. I used to hear people say they’d heard him play, or they’d danced to his orchestra, or they had it on good authority that he had been born in a cotton field. I knew all this was nonsense, and kept quiet, for almost no one really knew him. I did, knew him and loved him, more than this life would ever allow me to love any other. This was the one secret I never gave up.

1

Thomas greene awakened on his first morning in Shanghai to the creaking wheels of a cart and a man’s low-pitched singing call. For a long and dearly held moment he thought he was young again, back in Baltimore, with his mother still alive, hearing the cry of the strawberry man who brought his mule-clopping cart up Creel Street in the summer. But then he felt the snap of winter air against his face, and he remembered he was under silk quilts, in China.

   The cry sounded again, this time answered by the crowing of neighborhood chickens. He slid out, shivered over to the French doors, and parted the curtains to look down. It was a night soil collector, his musical cry opening doors up and down the lane as housewives set out their night stools. Thomas’s house had modern plumbing and pull-chain lavatories and many other extravagances since, as Lin Ming had put it the day before when they’d pulled up to the place in a motorcar, the Kings were one of the most popular orchestras in Shanghai, and he was their bandleader.

   A forest of pops sounded from the south, over the rooftops. Later he would learn it was Japanese soldiers at firing drills on the proving ground below the Hangzhou-Shanghai railhead, but on that first morning, since Lin Ming had told him all about the Japanese invading China, he thought for a chaotic and dreamlike moment that the time had come.

   But then it grew quiet again, and he saw the night soil man continuing up the lane unhurried, and the women still opening and closing their doors. No war today. Just his first rehearsal at nine o’clock, when within eight bars, the rest of the orchestra would know he was a fraud.

   Not that he was unskilled; on the contrary. He started classical training young, with his mother, then other teachers, and finally in the classrooms at Peabody, where colored students who had shown exceptional promise on their instruments could sit in the back and learn harmony, notation, theory, and composition, so long as they kept quiet. The piano was what people aspired to in his family, a line of ambition that ran through his mother, his grandmother, and now him. When he was small, before his father died in the Great War, his mother used to take him to private salons over in Washington, D.C., to hear polished black musicians play chamber music for hushed audiences. By the time he was nineteen, he himself was performing in starched evening wear. But just a couple of years later, the stock market crashed, and it seemed like no one’d had a nickel to spare since. Teaching dried up, and accompanist work, and playing for church choirs. For a time he got by playing piano for the movies in the theater, but then the talkies came in, and that was that. No one was up in the money, except them that were already rich.

   But finally, luck got him work sight-reading the classics at a rich man’s party in Guilford, and word of mouth got him some more. He did not land many jobs, just enough to give his mother a respectable sum toward their rent and food. He should have been happy with that, times being so hard, yet he was always on eggshells because some of these engagements came his way on account of the fact that his looks were light enough to confuse people. He may have been caramel-toned, with eyes as dark as ink, but his features were fine-drawn enough to attract second looks on the street. If he shaved his hair close, he had people asking his nationality. It didn’t hurt that he was a classical player, whom everyone expected to be vaguely foreign, possibly European, though surely from one of the southern countries. When asked his background, he always weighed his answer, since as colored, he got two dollars, but it was five when he performed as a Turk, or a Portuguese—which he did, whenever he thought he could get away with it.

   He cracked the wooden wardrobe painted with Chinese scenes to find his meager stack of folded clothes, which seemed to have been arranged on the shelf yesterday before he even made it up the stairs. At home he had been proud of these suits, no, depended on them; they were his badge, the uniform that showed him to be a man of gentle education, fluent in the music of Europe. He had spent his whole life mastering the role, and now—he was here. He knotted his tie and buttoned his threadbare jacket like he was going to a funeral. In a way, he was.

   Downstairs, he came upon the servants eating at

"Historical fiction at its best."
—Alan Cheuse, All Things Considered, NPR

"Mones' engrossing historical novel illuminates the danger, depravity, and drama of this dark period with brave authenticity."
—Carol Haggas, Booklist

"Keeps the suspense mounting until the end."
—Kirkus Reviews

"Historical fiction fans will not be disappointed."
—Library Journal

"With a magician's sleight of hand, Nicole Mones conjures up the jazz-filled, complex, turbulent world of Shanghai just before World War II. A rich and thoroughly captivating read."
—Gail Tsukiyama, author of The Samurai's Garden

"What an incredible thing Mones does in this novel of the compelling, sexy, rich and complicated world of historical Shanghai."
—Marisa Silver, author of Mary Coin

"Mones' genius lies in her attention for detail... NIGHT IN SHANGHAI is a riveting, entertaining and illuminating look at a moment that has been largely lost from history."
—January Magazine

"Real-life historical figures and fictional characters are cleverly intertwined in this gripping story. Shanghai's seedy underbelly is exposed, and woven into the tor-tapping swing of the big-band era... powerful."
—the West Australian, Perth

"An entertainingly engrossing story of love, life and passion couched in an enlightening, erudite exposé of the nuanced historical events that culminated in World War II. A novel to be savored.. and remembered for a long time."
—June J. McInerney, authorexposure.com

"Both of them young and awkward, but gifted and smart, (Thomas and Song) make for an odd but brilliant pair of lovers. They light up the pages of this novel.... Night in Shanghai, an intelligent historical romance, shows off with forceful insight, terrific characters, and a telling sense of detail. And, folks, it swings."
—Alan Cheuse, All Things Considered, NPR