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Daniel Kalla in Shanghai

The Far Side of the Sky by Daniel Kalla languished in my “too read” pile for a couple of years, until it’s sequel Rising Sun, Falling Shadow was published this fall.

The Far Side of the Sky was a departure for this author who is well known for his medical thrillers. Daniel Kalla is an emergency room physician in Vancouver whose first book Pandemic was published in 2005. Pandemic was based on Dr. Kalla’s experience during the SARS crisis in 2003 – but, he considered, what if this virus was being spread on purpose? A good idea for a thriller he thought and he has been at it ever since writing several books, all thrillers, in medical settings.

The Far Side of the Sky takes place during the Second World War, in Shanghai. This novel would be considered more literary fiction than thriller – although the danger the Jews who left Europe for Shanghai experienced made their lives extremely thrilling, as they hoped to survive the war in this place so far from what had been home.

The story itself is fascinating – a doctor, Franz Adler, widowed, flees Vienna with his young daughter, Hannah, leaving behind his elderly father. He is also accompanied by his sister in law, Esther, whose husband was brutally killed when the Nazis marched into Austria. All Austrian Jews were considered stateless as they were not German citizens and consequently had great difficulty in obtaining entry visas to other countries when they attempted to leave Europe. Shanghai, however, had no such restrictions and many European Jews headed there as they fled the Nazis.

Dr. Adler finds work in both the local hospital and a hospital catering to refugees, where he meets an enthusiastic and brash young American working on behalf of Jewish refuges. He also meets a young Chinese woman, Soon Yi known as “Sunny” and you can already guess what happens next. I found myself reading what is really a rather ordinary novel – but one that held my interest primarily because of the real history behind the fiction. Daniel Kalla’s writing is a little too floral for my taste – more suited to what I’d expect of a bodice ripper, and although there is lots of love in this novel it is all very proper. With that being said, I was interested enough to immediately read Daniel Kalla’s most recent novel Rising Sun, Falling Shadow as he continues the story into the final years of the Second World War.

Rising Sun, Falling Shadow finds Dr. Franz Adler and Sunny still working at the Refugee hospital, although they have few supplies and often operate without adequate anesthetic. There are shortages of all kinds in the area where the Jews are allowed to live, smuggling is dangerous but is attempted by many. There is a strict curfew and life often feels futile, as the months become years and these stateless refuges wait out the war just trying to stay alive. Children are born in spite of the dreadful conditions, bringing the joy of new life to their parents even as they fear for their survival. Those involved in the underground attempt to hide others and protect their community from the reprisals of the Nazis. The Japanese are in charge in Shanghai, and have no issues with the Jews, allowing them to live as other refugees, but there is unease between the Japanese and their German allies. The Nazis would like to imprison and ultimately annihilate the Jews but the Japanese will not give up control over all refugees in Shanghai, and ultimately they are saved.

Daniel Kalla has drawn on family stories and historical research for both The Far Side of the Sky and Rising Sun, Falling Shadow creating two novels that capture a fascinating time and place.

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