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The Lives Before Us

4.10  ·  Rating details ·  63 ratings  ·  22 reviews
A beautifully written, sweeping story of survival, community and love ...

It it April 1939, and, in Berlin and Vienna, Esther and Kitty face a brutal choice. Flee Europe, or face the ghetto, incarceration, death.

Shanghai … They’ve heard it whispered that Shanghai might offer refuge. And so, on a crowded ocean liner, these women encounter each other for the first time.

Paperback, 400 pages
Published March 28th 2019 by Black & White Publishing
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Average rating 4.10  · 
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 ·  63 ratings  ·  22 reviews

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The Lives Before Us is an accomplished, poignant and gracefully compelling story. A story steeped in history but personalised through the characterisation and life of 3 main characters, Esther, Kitty and Yì. Juliet Conlin has written a story conveying a sense of constant upheaval and a struggle to survive, during one of the World’s darkest periods. When hopes and expectations would remain dreams and a harrowing life was all that awaited the victims of a World at war.

In April 1939, 5 mont
Mar 20, 2019 rated it really liked it
This is an interesting novel describing the fate of the Jewish immigrants who were lucky to leave Germany and Austria before WW2 began. The immigration, as it turned out, saved their lives. The destination place was Shanghai, one of the few places then that accepted Jews and where the immigrants lived or rather survived in most dramatic circumstances. Two female characters, Kitty and Esther, have different background and stories that they take when they embark the ship. I liked the way the autho ...more
Whispering Stories
Apr 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Book Reviewed by Stacey on

April 1939 German widower Esther Niermann and her little daughter Anneliese and Austrian Kitty Blume are both Jewish and fleeing their respective countries before the war breaks out. They know of what Hitler and his men will do to the Jewish people.

They meet on board a ship heading from Genoa to Shanghai, China when they are both given the same cabin to share for the eight-week journey. The crossing is rough and sickly but the two women become
Jul 10, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This is a beautiful book that is heartbreaking, dramatic and made me feel so anxious with regards to the treatment of other human beings. The story that kept me enthralled from beginning to end.

Prior to the start of the second world war, Ester, Anni (Ester's daughter) and Kitty manage to leave Germany feeling the impending doom facing Jews under the Nazi regime. The 3 women shared a cabin on a ship from Genoa to Shanghai and eventually established a friendship that would resurface many years lat
Liv | Books to Liv by
Rating: 4 stars
HEA: (view spoiler)
"But the words don’t come. So instead, he attempts a smile, and the sounds drop away."

It’s quite unusual for me to read and review historical books. It’s a genre I’m definitely not accustomed to, but when I read the synopsis of this novel, set in Shangai during the World War II, I knew I had to give it a try. And I’m glad. I’m really, really, glad.
This novel talks about three people: Esther, Kitty and Wing (Yi). The two
Hannah G
Apr 22, 2019 rated it really liked it
This is a fascinating story of lives in Shanghai during the Second World War. The characters are interesting and believable and the setting is described in all its squalid and difficult detail. Really enjoyed this book.
Apr 09, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Excellent! A new favorite author!!
Mairead Hearne (
Two women. A world at war.
Can they survive the Shanghai Ghetto?

The Lives Before Us is the latest novel from Juliet Conlin and has just been published with Black & White Publishing. It is a book that invoked such emotions as the characters came alive for me. I travelled across the world with them and followed them into this new and strange environment where their lives would be changed forever.

I had never heard of the Shanghai Ghetto, until now. In the late 1930s, Shanghai was categorized as
Apr 12, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I knew that I would fall in love with this book as soon as I had read the first few pages and I sat about for a long while once it was over, wondering how on earth my review could do this book justice. This is historical fiction at its very best; a moving journey with two strong and brave yet strikingly different women at its heart, entwined with the life of a young boy from Shanghai. Whilst reading, my senses were assaulted by a cacophony of sights, sounds and smells; I really felt as if I was ...more
Mar 31, 2019 rated it it was amazing
The Lives Before Us is the story of Kitty and Esther, Jewish women fleeing Vienna and Berlin as World War 2 threatens and they face being sent to live in ghettos or worse. Shanghai is one of the few places which still accepts refugees at this point and the women meet when they share a cabin on board the boat there. Esther is a widow, seeking sanctuary for herself and her young daughter Anni. Kitty is travelling to join her wealthy, Russian fiancee Vitali who has promised a life of luxury. Howeve ...more
Annette Jordan
I loved this World War 2 era book, set in the exotic city of Shanghai, which follows the lives and adventures of three very different people. In Nazi occupied Europe in 1939 escape routes for Jews are few and far between. Esther and her young daughter are fleeing and one of the only cities that is still a free port open to all nationalities is Shanghai, so they board an ocean liner in search of a safer future. Once on board they meet Kitty, also Jewish, who is travelling to Shanghai on the promi ...more
Nicky Mottram
Sep 15, 2019 rated it really liked it
Audio version of this book 📚- Really enjoyed this book, unusual storyline told from the perspective of German Jews who fled to Shanghai. Great narration
Joy Corkery
Apr 03, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Review originally published here:

I’ve read a lot of WWII books set in England. My favourite aspect of these books is how people bond to get themselves through a hard time. I especially love the female friendships that come from these struggles. I found the exact same with The Lives Before Us and was really invested in what would come of the friendship between Esther and Kitty.

I know some people might turn their noses up at another WWII book but this book
Aug 04, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Well this is an unusual angle on a war story, telling the tale of two very different women who meet on board a ship taking them to Shanghai, a free port rumoured to be safer than their home cities. For a while it was - but then the Japanese invaded and life turned upside down. Very well written (unsurprisingly, as the author did go to Lancaster University ...!)
Christine Barrett
This was a total unexpected gem

I thought my supply of Ww2 novels had been exhausted This was a brilliant read loved the characters and such a brilliant narrator such a well researched novel I really enjoyed it I'm surprised it's never cropped up in my recommendations
Elena Woontner
Sep 19, 2019 rated it really liked it
Excellent journey to discover how different and similar are cultures far away from each other. The characters change and evolve. It will be difficult to forget Wing.
Clazzzer C
Apr 05, 2020 rated it really liked it
This tale of survival, love, friendship and resilience centres around two women's choice to flee to Shanghai rather than perish in the gas chambers under Hitler's rule. Berlin and Vienna are no longer safe to Jews so Kitty and Esther make up their minds to move to Shanghai, a place they've heard great things about, somewhere to start afresh, safely, away from the Nazi threat. Their destination isn't all that was promised or expected however and before them they witness levels of poverty that pre ...more
Michael Craig
Feb 09, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This detailed slow burning novel flowed along nicely, although occasionally a little too slowly.The stories of the main characters were planned and executed well and were cleverly linked together. However, to my mind the descriptions of what happened in Shanghai during world war 2, trumped the characters’ stories. I was surprised how badly theJewish community were treated and how appalling the conditions were in the ghetto where they were located. The descriptions of Shanghai were excellent and ...more
Jun 10, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: abandoned
It was fine...wanted more.
Apr 14, 2019 rated it really liked it
Time taken to read - 2.5 days

Pages - 400

Publisher - Black & White Publishing

Source - Review copy

Blurb from Goodreads

A beautifully written, sweeping story of survival, community and love ...

It it April 1939, and, in Berlin and Vienna, Esther and Kitty face a brutal choice. Flee Europe, or face the ghetto, incarceration, death.

Shanghai … They’ve heard it whispered that Shanghai might offer refuge. And so, on a crowded ocean liner, these women encounter each other for the first time.

Kitty has be
Diane Dunn
Apr 12, 2019 rated it really liked it
A period in wartime history I wasn’t familiar with, just the kind of book I love to read. Jewish immigrants fleeing Europe in the light of the persecutions by the Nazis. Coming from all backgrounds, they are flung together over a period of a few months, salvaging from their lives anything of any value. They flee to Shanghai, a place of safety or so they have heard however it’s quickly taken over by the Japanese and their struggle to find their homeland goes on.

Thanks to Netgalley the author and
Jun 26, 2020 rated it liked it
I knew a little about Jewish people in Shanghai during WW2 but not much, so was interesting to read more about that. Not so keen on the style it was written - the dates felt clunky... Managed to cry at the ending 😂
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Aug 30, 2020
Pippa Hartridge
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Sep 03, 2019
Nuala Taqi
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Jul 05, 2020
Louise Gaffney
rated it it was ok
Apr 19, 2019
R A Garman
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Apr 08, 2019
rated it it was amazing
Oct 10, 2019
Sofia Lane
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Apr 30, 2019
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Juliet Conlin was born in London and grew up in England and Germany. She holds an MA in Creative Writing from Lancaster University and a PhD in Psychology from the University of Durham. She works as a writer and translator and lives with her husband and four children in Berlin. She writes in both English and German. Her novels include SISTERS OF BERLIN, THE LIVES BEFORE US, THE UNCOMMON LIFE OF AL ...more

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