Ursula Bacon’s Shanghai Diary is a fascinating and moving memoir. Bacon relates the story of her family’s life as refugees from Hitler’s Germany. In 1939 Ursula and her parents fled Germany to Shanghai, China, the only port open to Jews. They left a life of wealth and privilege to live in squalor in the “armpit of the world”.
Refreshingly, Bacon makes quite clear that this book is a memoir, not a history. We understand that this is written from her perspective; Ursula is only eleven when this abrupt change takes place.
She describes the struggles her family makes to adjust to their new life. Shanghai is crowded and unsanitary. It is hot and humid in the summer, damp and cold in the winter. Rents are high and food is scarce. Many families live as Ursula’s did-the entire family in one small room. Others are not so fortunate; several families might share a room.
Ursula grows up quickly under these conditions. She continues her schooling at a Sacred Heart Convent School, until the school is forced to close. She gets a job teaching English to the concubines of a Chinese general. She loses friends to disease; she meets her husband.
The family is sustained by their hope of emigrating to America. They follow the news of World War II as best they can. They are thrilled as the Americans began reclaiming Japanese territories. And yet they are terrified as the Americans begin bombing Japanese controlled Shanghai.
This book depicts a brutal, frightening time. And yet the clearest message of the book is of hope and love. In the words of one of Ursula’s fellow refugees: “Go out and make a miracle today, God’s busy, he can’t do it all.”
Published in hardcover-Milestone Books 2002
Softcover edition- Hara Publishing Group 2002