The Distant Land of My Father - Bo Caldwell I highly recommend this book. It will appeal to those who enjoy books about family relationships, it will appeal to those who enjoy learning about historical events in foreign lands and finally it will appeal to those who enjoy historical biographies. This is a book of historical fiction. It is not based on real lives, but the writing feels so genuine that you believe the characters really did exist. The maternal grandparents of the author where Christian missionaries in China. The author knows China and this shows in her writing. Her research is impeccable. Historical facts and even such small details as the songs and movies, hits of those times, are woven into the thread. It is the details that makes this book feel genuine.

The book grabbed me from the start. Anna, six years old, lives with her wealthy parents, an American mother and a father born in China but to American missionaries. He is educated in the States, where the couple meet. But China is his home, and Shanghai is the love of his life. His love for this city makes Shanghai in the 1930s just glow. His love for this city and his daughter are one. He teaches her everything about it. As he teaches her we learn too. You must know how someone's enthusiasm for a place or subject is contagious? This is what you experience when you read about the time he spends with his young daughter in the parks, walking along the Bund and eating in the restaurants in Shanghai. The statues and the marble columns and green domes, the glittery exuberance, the hotel where newspapers are ironed every morning. The details put you there. The Wangpoo River is not fragrant, the ships anchored along the side are noisy, the vendors are both noisy and smelly too. There is a map of the streets, buildings, the border of the International Settlement, th French Concession, the Soochow River crossed by the Garden Bridge. When they walk you know exactly where they are on the map. You see the city before the Japanese took over. This book offers a glimpse into the glittering lives of the Europeans living in the International Settlement. The story only begins here. Then the Japanese take control. Mother and daughter leave; father stays. Then the Jewish émigrés pour in, but this is not a book about them. Things go from bad to worse. What happened in in 1941 with the events of Pearl Harbor? And then later the Communists arrive. The book covers all of this. I must warn that the events are gruesome, but they were a reality for some.

That the mother and daughter depart for the US, leaving the father behind, adds a second them to the story. This is well written too, but for me a bit less engaging. However I do think many others will enjoy this equally. The theme here is about family relationships, a bit about religion and simply growing older, finding out what we value in life and who we are. How do we relate to our parents both as a child and as we grow older? And it is about grandchildren and what passes from one generation to the next. Maybe a bit sentimental but quite nice!

I recommend this book because it both teaches both about life in Shanghai from the 30s through the 50s and about the emotional feelings within one family. That family feels very real.

This is not a book about the Jewish émigrés that flooded into Shanghai during the war. For that I suggest instead: Shanghai Diary: A Young Girl's Journey from Hitler's Hate to War-Torn China