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Shanghai Diary

4.11  ·  Rating details ·  479 Ratings  ·  88 Reviews
By the late 1930s, Europe sat on the brink of a world war. As the holocaust approached, many Jewish families in Germany fled to one of the only open ports available to them: Shanghai. Once called "the armpit of the world," Shanghai ultimately served as the last resort for tens of thousands of Jews desperate to escape Hitler's "Final Solution." Against this backdrop, 11-yea ...more
Hardcover, 272 pages
Published September 28th 2004 by Dark Horse Books (first published July 1st 2002)
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Esther Hopper This is pretty strong medicine for a 13 year old. The horrors endured by Ursulas family are beyond imagining, and this story is true; I knew the…moreThis is pretty strong medicine for a 13 year old. The horrors endured by Ursulas family are beyond imagining, and this story is true; I knew the author.
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
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Apr 16, 2010 rated it really liked it
ETA: I also highly recommend: The Distant Land of My Father
My review:
This gives you another perspective of Shanghai during the war!

Now that I have finished the book, I think I will give it 4 stars. You know me, I hand out those stars VERY stringently. Furthermore, I am swayed by my emotions - this book feels best as a book I "liked a lot", rather than being "amazing"! Let me explain. This book covers the 8 years and 3 months that the author spent as a chi
Jan 12, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Rose, Leah, Gail
Recommended to Barbara by: Chrissie
I received this shopworn copy from the library today and plunged right in. It reads like a novel! Much more will be added as I get further along, but I am "hooked"!

Most people are familiar with the WW II Holocaust literature involving European Jewish people and other victims, but this book relates the saga of those who sought shelter in Shanghai. It was especially of interest to me because my family has members who immigrate
Jan 18, 2010 rated it it was amazing
I was surprised how much I enjoyed this book, and how quickly it moved along. Often first-person accounts get mired in things the author thinks is important, but which the readers really don't care that much about. Such was not the case with this book. The story was fascinating from start to finish, and I learned a bit of history about which I'd been ignorant.
Jan 23, 2015 rated it really liked it
I enjoyed this autobiography of a young German girl's experiences in Shanghai during WWII. Previously I had limited knowledge about the fate of German citizens who fled to China at the start of the war. Written for young adults, Bacon tells a compelling story of her life in that city, under the Chinese and then under the Japanese as they ruled China.
Nov 05, 2008 rated it liked it
Mediocre writing, but very interesting story. After having read so many holocaust memoirs centered around Euopean refugees, it was a new perspective to see it from the Asian front.
Feb 28, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: asian, biography, china
Fascinating story about a bit of history that I knew nothing about. Ursula Bacon was 10 in 1939 when she and her parents escaped Nazi Germany and fled to Shanghai. It was the only place left that would accept Jewish refugees, and 20,000 of them ended up there, leaving everything behind and trying to build a life in the Shanghai ghetto. Starting out with very little money, no knowledge of the language and customs, shocked at the level of poverty and disease, they managed to find friends, create j ...more
Jun 16, 2009 rated it liked it
This book taps into an unknown but fasinating aspect of World War II, the refugee Jews in Shanghai. Unfortnuatley I found the writing style to be slightly repetative and infused with cliched descriptive adjectives. The tone was too child-like through-out which prevented the reader from regarding with respect and awe the author's experiences in extraodinary times. This was also aggravated by the fact that some experiences were described in a dead-pan rush which left the reader cheated (think abou ...more
Feb 19, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I never knew that Jews fled to Shanghai. I loved Ursala's storytelling style. It captivated the historian in me searching for how her tale fit or contrasted with other refugee narratives and WWII knowledge I had. Her structure is easy to follow and her interwoven tales of coming of age and how their world fit into the bigger picture of history was a great balance to the real hardships she and others endured.
Feb 17, 2010 rated it it was amazing
I'm almost finished with this book and I've been enmeshed in the story. This book makes one really think about what it's like an American and how persecution existed in both China and here during the McCarthy Era. I'm really enjoying it.

I highly recommend this book
Aug 01, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2013, memoir
I learned a lot about a part of wwii I never knew existed while reading this book, but I didn't think Ursula was a very good writer. I borrowed it from the library and someone had corrected many of her facts and claims in pencil, so she didn't seem very reliable. Wasn't a big fan of her style.
April 'Stacy'
Jan 09, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Very well told story of a young woman and her family escaping Berlin before WWII.
Victoria Wright
Jan 11, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Amazing but true memoir
Barbara Pearlman
May 07, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: anyone
Before WWII 18,000 European Jews immigrated to Shanghai to escape the Nazis. They were welcomed by the Chinese government and China was the only country in the world that would accept them. They were greeted with poverty, pestilence, filth, unsanitary conditions and horrible weather. In spite of this many of them eked out survival and managed to earn a living and live well until the Japanese invaded China. Then they returned to the horrible conditions that greeted them when they first arrived. T ...more
Charmaine Anderson
Mar 23, 2011 rated it really liked it

I decided while reading this book that I like books about real life experiences, especially if I don’t know much about the time period. I didn’t know that as many as 20,000 Jews escaped Hitler’s clutches by traveling to China during Hitler’s reign of terror. If you had a boat ticket to China it was even possible to get out of a Nazi prison.

Ursula Bacon is 10 years old when her family escaped to China in 1939. The story moves from their opulent home in Germany to the boat passage and on to the c
Jan 05, 2009 rated it liked it
I always like autobiography novels, and I learned a lot more about WW2 through this book than I did in school. How interesting to flee Germany and end up in Shanghai.

favorite quotes to remember:
"anybody can sign and dance and celebrate in good times. That's easy, and we don't give it much thought. But when we are able to celebrate life in any form in bad times, in means to me that we can rise above our circumstances and express our indestructbile spirit and the gift of life itself." author's mot
Tee Minn
Nov 28, 2014 rated it it was amazing
When you finish a book and you start reading the back jacket and the forward again, you know it spoke to you. Shanghai Diary is a moving memoir that hurts your soul with our inhumanity, but lifts you up as Ursula matures from an 8 year old girl to a teenager recognizing all the gifts we are to each other. Admittedly I am not knowledge about the plight of the Jewish refugees to China and their limited choices. "The rest of the world had closed its my optic eyes to the horrors of Nazi Germany, clo ...more
Laura Hancock
Jul 04, 2010 rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jul 15, 2011 rated it liked it
It was an interesting book to read, to see what type of refuge Shanghai was during WWII. Many people didn't know how many Jews were allowed to come here - so that was interesting. The author starts off the story with almost an apology that she never really felt right in writing this because so many suffered so much, but she wanted to add to the historical record. And it was really true - so it was nice she prefaced with that.

One of the most interesting parts was that most of the "horrible condit
Aug 28, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This was an eye-opening read about the life of those who had fled Germany during WWII. This is the first book I have read about the experiences of those whose only option of leaving was going to China. The author's experiences demonstrate her courage, strength, and heart to see the good in any situation. She captures the many tragic moments she lived through in such detail that she brings the roller-coaster of emotions one can have to surface. I appreciate the time the author took to describe th ...more
Jun 05, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Having visited the Shanghai Jewish Museum and touring the neighborhood before reading this book gave Ursula's tale so compelling for me! When so many Jews were turned away from other countries because of quotas, Shanghai opened its doors to thousands upon thousands of Jews who were lucky enough to escape death in Germany and other countries that Hitler took over. While the Shanghai Museum portrayed a haven for the Jews, Ursula's refugee tale was quite different. Her family lived in poverty, in a ...more
Donna Johnson
Jul 27, 2009 rated it it was amazing
This is an amazing memoir about a teenagers life on the run from the Nazis. Even though I have studied a lot about the Holocaust, this is the first time I had ever heard of the "Shanghai Jews". It's amazing how vivid Bacon's memories are despite the fact that she was only 11 when she left Germany for Shanghai. Also amazing (and this always amazes me) is the human spirit that we see in this book. Despite the fact that her family and friends were in such a desolate situation, they continued to rea ...more
Feb 06, 2011 rated it really liked it
Another wonderful gift from my friend Carol. Ursula’s family narrowly escaped Nazi Germany in 1939. They fled to Shanghai where they remained until moving to the United States in 1947.

This memoir describes their flight, the shock of arrival, life in the relative comfort of the French Concession, and their struggle to survive the abysmal conditions of the Hongkew ghetto. Ursula is eleven when they arrive; this is where she grows up. Her education comes from learning how to navigate this strange w
Ally Armistead
May 22, 2010 rated it it was ok
"Shanghai Diary"--the memoir of a Jewish girl who flees from Nazi Germany to war-torn Shanghai--is 2 out of 5 stars for me. I REALLY wanted to like this more, but the accounts of Ursula are detached and told in generalities, which make it difficult to enter her world fully. The best and most interesting parts of the book are the details about the unsanitary conditions of the Shanghai refugee districts in the 40s (the disease, the rats, the starvation) and the appearance of a Eurasian Buddhist mo ...more
Oct 06, 2014 rated it really liked it
An "easy read" and at the same time an extremely hard-to-read true account of a remarkable young girl, a Jewish refugee, whose flees Nazi Germany with her parents to wait out the war in Shanghai, China. The author, Ursula Bacon, tells the story of her youth with innocence, intimacy, courage, humor, and intelligence. The memoir reads like a young person's diary, rich with thinking and dreaming, and the reader comes to know Ursula's parents, her housemates, and her many new friends - rich and poor ...more
May 13, 2014 rated it liked it
I am drawn to stories of the WWII era and especially those from the Pacific.

This is the true story of Jewish refugees who fled Germany and lived out the war in Shanghai. I did not know that this had happened. The story is told from the point of view of the author who was only 10 when they first arrived. She grew up quickly, too quickly.

I enjoyed Ursula's plain writing. She vividly described the culture shock experienced by these Europeans now living among the Chinese. She brought me into that
Oct 07, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Simple but excellent true account of Jewish family who flees Germany and Nazi persecution during WW2. The family finds refuge in the only country left who was willing to accept Jews. The highly educated, once wealthy family flees with nothing but the clothes on their backs and manages to survive the duration of the war in Shanghai, China using their wits and determination despite all but insurmountable odds. This is yet another war time account of the awesome ability of the human spirit to make ...more
Sep 19, 2011 rated it really liked it
This was certainly a different Holocaust story--the Jewish author and her parents managed to escape Germany right before the beginning of WWII by taking a boat to Shanghai, China, where there was a sizable refugee community. Thy were allowed to live there by working and had a fairly comfortable life for a while, but eventually the Japanese forced them into a ghetto with bad conditions. Still, better than Auschwitz, and all three of them survived and eventually were able to get to America. Unusua ...more
Dec 09, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: jewish-fiction
I read "The Far Side of the Sky" which was fiction - about a Jewish family who fled to Shanghai. This book was Ursula Bacon's true account of her young years in a foreign country. What was uplifting about the book was despite her poverty and unsanitary living conditions, she and her parents and extended family found ways to be grateful and happy. I do not always enjoy reading first-person accounts but did like this book.
May 04, 2014 rated it liked it
The writing wasn't anything to rave about and I found myself feeling like I was re-reading previous paragraphs, however the story was very interesting and about a group of people I'd never heard or read about. Seeing what life was like as a Jew on Chinese soil under Japanese occupation was eye-opening. I couldn't believe it took them two yrs after the war was finally over to get their visas to the USA.
Deb Neely
Jul 27, 2009 rated it liked it
I liked this book immediately as Ursula Bacon writes in a compelling, and action packed way. At times I felt she skipped over some detail and feeling, but overall she captured the gravity and drama of European Jews moving to Shanghai during the 1930s-1940s. The characters are extremely colorful and well drawn and the ending is satisfying, yet predictable. If you are interested in WWII history, this gives you information on a lesser known aspect of this time period.
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