NIGHT IN SHANGHAI

Nicole Mones

Sailing to Shanghai in 1936 to lead a black jazz orchestra, Thomas Greene goes from being flat broke in segregated Baltimore to living in a mansion with servants of his own, and from the classical piano pieces he was trained to play to the toe-tapping swing of the big band era.

Song Yuhua is refined, educated, and 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, longs for escape, and risks her life spying on her master for the Communist Party.

With Shanghai shattered by the Japanese invasion,

more …

Sailing to Shanghai in 1936 to lead a black jazz orchestra, Thomas Greene goes from being flat broke in segregated Baltimore to living in a mansion with servants of his own, and from the classical piano pieces he was trained to play to the toe-tapping swing of the big band era.

Song Yuhua is refined, educated, and 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, longs for escape, and risks her life spying on her master for the Communist Party.

With Shanghai shattered by the Japanese invasion, Thomas and Song find their way to each other and forge a bond from which neither can back down in the turbulent years that follow. Torn between music and survival, freedom and commitment, love and war, they navigate the dangers leading to world war until the moment when they must cast their lots in Night in Shanghai’s final, impossible choice.

less …
  • Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Hardcover
  • March 2014
  • 288 Pages
  • 9780547516172

Buy the Book

$25.00

indies Bookstore indies Bookstore

About Nicole Mones

Nicole Mones is the prize-winning author of three previous novels,

The Last Chinese Chef, Lost in Translation, and A Cup of Light, which have been published in more than twenty-five countries.

Praise

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

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

Discussion Questions

Before the novel begins, Mones offers this Chinese adage: “An inch of time is worth an inch of gold. An inch of gold cannot buy an inch of time.” This saying comes from an ancient text that imparted life lessons to children. What lesson do you take from it? What do you think it meant to Thomas, Song, and Lin?

Chiang Kai-shek pursued a policy of “first internal pacification, then external resistance” (2), because he thought the Communists posed a greater threat to China than the Japanese invasion. Looking back from today, do you think he was correct? Or do you think Song was right to build her life around opposing this?

Song says, “Jazz was the sun around which this paradise revolved” (2). In the 1930s, jazz was very popular around the world, perhaps the defining music of its era. What do you think has been the defining music of your era? How has that music shaped and enriched your life?

Jazz musician Charlie Parker said, “Music is your experience, your thoughts, your wisdom. If you don’t live it, it won’t come out of your horn.” What living does Thomas have to accomplish before he can finally throw off his fetters at the piano? What makes it possible for him?

“I was reborn first through the movement, and then again, through him. After our time together I knew, no matter where the two of us were, that while he lived, I would never be alone. I knew I would return to him. But just as much, I knew I needed to go north” (180). Many people struggle to find a balance between love and self-actualization. Do you think Thomas and Song made the right decisions? What do you think would have happened to them, and to their feelings for each other, if they had chosen differently?

All the major events in Night in Shanghai actually happened, and except for Thomas Greene, Song Yuhua, Lin Ming, and David Epstein, almost all the book’s characters really lived (and can be seen in photos and film on the author’s website). The novel ends with a nonfiction-style epilogue. Did the novel’s fidelity to true events affect your perception of the story? Do you think there is something different about a story based on true events?

“He lost himself in his dreams of Song, but in his rational moments, he was aware of life slipping away” (211). Do you think Thomas sacrifices too much in waiting for her? In the end, who makes the greatest sacrifice, Thomas or Song? Explain.

When Thomas and David play for refugee audiences, they realize their music provides a powerful and poignant memory of the past that has been left behind forever. Thomas thinks, “This is what they want from music, a feeling, a connection to another time” (214). Do you ever listen to music to feel connected to another time? To what times and places does music carry you back?