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Posts Tagged ‘The Lives Before Us’

Hard to believe that we’re half way through the year already, and as we’ve hit this milestone, I figured that it might be a good time to round up some of the great indie books that I’ve featured so far and some of the great authors who have given their time to take part in author interviews or written guest posts for us to read.

Links to each of the Friday features are below, or alternatively if you want to use the search function at the top of the page, just type in the name of the book or author to bring up the relevant page.

Feature Links:
Call Me Star Girl by Louise Beech (book feature)
The Twitches Meet a Puppy by Hayley Scott (book feature)
Fractured Winter by Alison Baillie (book feature)
Inborn by Thomas Enger (book feature)
Roz White (author feature)
Beton Rouge by Simone Buchholz (book feature)
The Courier by Kjell Old Dahl (book feature)
The Red Light Zone by Jeff Zycinski (book feature)
A Letter From Sarah by Dan Proops (book and author feature)
The Silver Moon Storybook by Elaine Gunn (book feature)
Runaway by Claire MacLeary (book feature)
Sunwise by Helen Steadman (book feature)
The Lives Before Us by Juliet Conlin (book feature)
The Red Gene by Barbara Lamplugh (book and author feature)
Death at The Plague Museum by Lesley Kelly (book feature)
Heleen Kist (author feature)
White Gold by David Barker (book feature)
Sonny and Me by Ross Sayers (book and author feature)
Claire MacLeary (author feature)
A History of Magic and Witchcraft: Sabbats, Satan and Superstitions in the West by Frances Timbers (book feature)
The Killer Across The Table by John E. Douglas & Mark Olshaker (book feature)
Maggie Christensen (author feature)

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I’ve been very lucky lately with some of the books I’ve read for sharing on this feature. When Celebrating Indie Publishing started, I don’t think I ever imagined how popular it would become, or how many different books I would end up falling in love with. Today’s book is one of those rare books that I started reading, not prepared for how deeply it would make me think or how much it would get under my skin.

  • Title: The Lives Before Us
  • Author: Juliet Conlin
  • Publisher: Black and White Publishing
  • Publication Date: 28th March 2019

Copy received from publisher for review purposes.

Description:

“I wasn’t sure I liked the sound of it. Even my vivid imagination could hardly fathom a place as tight, or dense, or narrow as Shanghai.”

It’s April 1939 and, with their lives in Berlin and Vienna under threat, Esther and Kitty – two very different women – are forced to make the same brutal choice. Flee Europe, or face the ghetto, incarceration, death.

Shanghai, they’ve heard, Shanghai is a haven – and so they secure passage to the other side of the world. What they find is a city of extremes – wealth, poverty, decadence and disease – and of deep political instability. Kitty has been lured there with promises of luxury, love, marriage – but when her Russian fiancé reveals his hand she’s left to scratch a vulnerable living in Shanghai’s nightclubs and dark corners. Meanwhile, Esther and her little girl take shelter in a house of widows until the protection of Aaron, Esther’s hot-headed former lover, offers new hope of survival.

Then the Japanese military enters the fray and violence mounts. As Kitty’s dreams of escape are dashed, and Esther’s relationship becomes tainted, the two women are thrown together in the city’s most desperate times. Together they must fight for a future for the lives that will follow theirs.

A sweeping story of survival, community and friendship in defiance of the worst threat to humanity the world has ever faced. From the author of the extraordinary The Uncommon Life of Alfred Warner in Six DaysThe Lives Before Us will particularly resonate with readers of Jeremy Dronfield (The Boy Who Followed His Father into Auschwitz), Anthony Doerr (All the Light We Cannot See), Heather Morris (The Tattooist of Auschwitz), and Costa-winner Bart van Es (The Cut Out Girl).

My Thoughts:

I have to admit, that the journey to Shanghai was not one that I was familiar with, and indeed I wasn’t aware of the number of people who fled Europe for China around the time of WWII, so The Lives Before Us was a somewhat educational read for me.

Juliet Conlin crafts two wonderfully complex characters to make the journey from an unstable Europe to the haven of Shanghai in 1939. These women are brought to life through her eloquent and vivid writing, they are more than just names on a page, they are well rounded personalities with very real worries and problems, they are victims of decisions made around them and for them, but one thing is for sure, Shanghai will be a new start for them.
Esther and her young daughter Anni, are thrown somewhat by the arrival of a glamorous woman in their cabin aboard the ship in Genoa, Kitty’s appearance was not expected, but both women are given little choice about the arrangements and decide to make the best of a difficult situation. As they cross the oceans to Shanghai, Esther learns that Kitty is also a Jew, and fleeing persecution in Vienna. The pair strike up a friendship, a genuine bond forms between them and Esther is saddened when they lose sight of each other when they arrive at their final destination.
Arriving in Shanghai, Kitty is thrilled to see fiance Vitali and cannot wait to begin the rest of their lives together. She shows her to an apartment, introduces her to her young Chinese servant Yi (Wing as Vitali refers to him), and then drops the bombshell that life will not work out as Kitty had hoped.

What then follows is a rich and heartbreaking narrative from the perspectives of Esther, Kitty and Yi. Readers experience the adjustments to life that each of these characters faces, Esther trying to keep her young child safe and find work so that they can move out of a refugee centre, Kitty living an existence that doesn’t quite match up with the life she had envisioned, feeling alone and isolated, and then there is Yi. Yi lives in a kind of poverty that forces the reader to face the inequalities in society, he is treated with kindness by Kitty, a stark contrast to the way that Vitali treats him, and I almost gasped in horror reading the beatings he received at the hands of his Russian master.

As their lives develop and adapt to their surroundings, these characters grow, they find strength and courage, but the compassion they receive and show to others really sets these three out as special.

This is a really remarkable book, it takes a very dark part of history and together with compassionate and beautiful writing, transforms the story into an unforgettable tale that works its way into the hearts of readers and leaves them wondering “what if?” with it’s thought provoking prose.



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