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Summary

Summary

Warsaw, Poland. The year is 1940 and Lillia is 15 when her mother, Alenka, disappears and her father flees with Lillia and her younger sister, Naomi, to Shanghai, one of the few places that will accept Jews without visas. There they struggle to make a life; they have no money, there is little work, no decent place to live, a culture that doesn't understand them. And always the worry about Alenka. How will she find them? Is she still alive? Meanwhile Lillia is growing up, trying to care for Naomi, whose development is frighteningly slow, in part from malnourishment. Lillia finds an outlet for her artistic talent by making puppets, remembering the happy days in Warsaw when they were circus performers. She attends school sporadically, makes friends with Wei, a Chinese boy, and finds work as a performer at a "gentlemen's club" without her father's knowledge. But meanwhile the conflict grows more intense as the Americans declare war and the Japanese force the Americans in Shanghai into camps. More bombing, more death. Can they survive, caught in the crossfire?


Author Notes

Rachel DeWoskin spent her twenties in China as the unlikely star of a nighttime soap opera that inspired her memoir Foreign Babes in Beijing. She is the author of Repeat After Me and Big Girl Small, which received the American Library Association's Alex Award for an adult book with special appeal to teen readers; Rachel's conversations with young readers inspired her to write her first YA novel, Blind. Rachel is on the faculty of the University of Chicago, where she teaches creative writing. She lives in Chicago with her husband, playwright Zayd Dohrn, and their two daughters.
Rachel and her family spent six summers in Shanghai while she researched Someday We Will Fly.


Reviews 4

Publisher's Weekly Review

With pathos and a fine eye for historical detail, DeWoskin (Blind) relates the story of Shanghai's Jewish refugees during WWII, when Shanghai was under Japanese occupation. In May 1940, two days before their scheduled escape from Warsaw, 15-year-old Lillia's mother disappears, and Lillia, her father, and her malnourished 18-month-old sister Naomi, must flee Poland without her. Lillia, who has inherited her circus performer parents' agility and love for storytelling, finds solace making puppets from scavenged materials. Realizing that her family's survival depends in part on her, she discovers the lengths she will go to save them from starvation and illness, including selling her hair, pawning her mother's gold ring, and dancing in a club for wealthy Japanese men, all the while wondering if she'll ever see her mother again. Lillia's first-person narrative details occupied Shanghai extensively, from her initial impression of the city as "an electric mob of running, waving, shouting" to the ever-present Japanese soldiers. DeWoskin captures the crushing destruction of war and occupation, the unfathomable resilience communities can muster through cross-cultural friendships and acts of kindness, andthe power of the performing arts to foster hope in times of struggle and desperation. Ages 12-up. Agent: Jill Grinberg, Jill Grinberg Literary Management. (Jan.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.


Horn Book Review

In 1940, Lillias Jewish family plans to escape the Nazi threat in Warsaw for Shanghai. Her parents are acrobats, and when their circus is raided, Lillia and her father and sister are separated from the girls mother and must make the journey without knowing her fate. Once there, the family lives among other refugees in Japanese-occupied Shanghai, and Lillia attends an international Jewish school. She begins to interact with local people via her friendship with Wei, a boy who works at the school, and later his sister Aili. Lillia (fifteen when the story begins) starts out somewhat naive, and DeWoskin sensitively shows her maturing as she comes to realize the privilege she has over Shanghai-born Wei and Aili, even as a refugee, and the repercussions her actions can have for them. Her growth also involves accepting the role of sole breadwinner when her father and sister fall ill; left without many options, she takes a job dancing and socializing at a club for wealthy Japanese men. Though a climactic revelation seems perhaps too good to be true, the novel is honest about the impossibility of a completely happy ending. Prose thick with description details 1940s Shanghai through the eyes of a first-person narrator trying to make sense of a setting completely new to her. A personal and informative authors note and an extensive list of sources make it evident that this novel highlighting a WWII story rarely told in YA is a well-researched one. shoshana flax March/April 2019 p 79(c) Copyright 2019. The Horn Book, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Kirkus Review

During World War II, Lillia and her Polish family struggle to make a new home in Shanghai.DeWoskin (Blind, 2014, etc.) explores a rarely depicted topic: the struggles of the Shanghai Jewish refugees. Lillia's parents, Stanislav Circus acrobats, are performing their last show when the event is raided. Her mother is lost in the confusion, and Lillia, her father, and her developmentally disabled baby sister flee Warsaw, traveling by land and sea to China. Part of Lillia rejects what is going on around her, in innocent disbelief at what people are capable of doing to one another, while another part revels in small freedoms, wandering the streets of Shanghai unmonitored, amazed at discovering a Jewish community in this foreign land. There, in a place where she begins to hate the hope she harbors that her mother will find them, Lillia both discovers new strength and plunges into new depths of desperation, driven to do things that would surprise and appall her old self. Though the instances of Chinese romanized text are missing all tonal marks that denote pronunciation and meaning, English translations are given. The vivid characters are flawed and evolve, sometimes according to or despite their circumstances. Particularly fascinating is the juxtaposition of the plight of Jewish refugees with that of the Chinese living in a Japanese-occupied Shanghai.A beautifully nuanced exploration of culture and people. (author's note, sources, map) (Historical fiction. 13-18) Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.


Booklist Review

During WWII, teenage Lillia and her circus acrobat family flee Poland for Shanghai, joining a large Jewish refugee community from both Europe and America. DeWoskin, who has lived in China, has done meticulous research, but what stands out is her lyrical, sensitive portrayal of families struggling to survive during wartime, and the heartbreaking uncertainty that comes from families being separated. Although Lillia's father gets Lillia and her developmentally disabled baby sister, Naomi, out of Poland before they end up in concentration camps, father and daughters are separated from mother Alenka. Once safely in Shanghai, they find that nothing is easy: food, jobs, housing, medical treatment, and childcare are scarce or nonexistent, and Jewish refugees find themselves crowded into the ghetto of Hongkou. Eventually Lillia takes a job (without her father's knowledge or permission) as a hostess-dancer at a gentleman's club, bringing in money for food and medicine she also develops a romantic relationship with a Chinese boy. All the while, the family aches for Alenka, not knowing if they will ever see her again. Lillia uses her art (dance and puppetry) to keep herself and her family going in the face of constant challenges. Offering an unusual portrait of what war does to families in general and children in particular, DeWoskin is never didactic as she affirms the human need for art and beauty in hard times.--Debbie Carton Copyright 2010 Booklist


Excerpts

Excerpts

Heime, Home 1940 I first saw Shanghai from over my father's shoulder. I was feverish the final two weeks on the ship, as if my hair had been protecting my head and once I was without it, sickness leaked in. I missed the last three ports: Penang, Singapore, Hong Kong. Of course I wouldn't have been allowed off the ship anyway, but I was sorry not to have seen them. When I woke, soaked with broken fever, we were descending the ship's gangplank, Papa carrying Naomi, me, and all of our things. So I guess it was for the best that we had so little with us. As far as I could see there were human beings, throbbing with heat, an electric mob of running, waving, shouting. There were animals and also men pulling carts, racing, climbing onto and off of boats so rickety they looked as if they'd been made by hand from paper, people entering and exiting buildings; everywhere store fronts and signs covered with slashes and dots that made a language I couldn't understand. I reached across Papa's neck and held Naomi's hand. "What day is it?" I heard him say, "July." We had been traveling for over a month, and now it was July and we were here, in Shanghai. Out from the endless rush of people carrying meat, lumber, bricks, passengers, giant pieces of glass emerged a man on a bicycle. He was the first person I could see individually somehow. There were so many of us. He had brown skin and bright eyes, and was watching the street ahead of him. How was he balancing his bicycle? The back was stacked with so many packages it looked like a house made of boxes. A pole crossed his neck and shoulders; from each end hung pails that seemed to pull the metal down, bending it on either side and digging a groove in his flesh. He moved so slowly through the hot street. He was the first Chinese person I'd seen, and he looked the same as anyone else, but also different. I felt a wild confusion that resembled excitement. What did I look like to those who weren't me? Another man pulled a two-wheeled cart by, fast. He was thin as a single bone. In his cart perched a woman whose white hair flew behind her. She held a fur blanket with an animal's head still attached. It had teeth. I was surprised to see a blanket in such heat. Only when the man veered around them did I notice the group of men in payos , side-curls. Jewish men, walking toward the dock, moving and speaking as if none of the chaos around them were happening, as if it weren't a thousand degrees and impossible to breathe. As if we hadn't landed on another planet. I watched them, amazed by their calm, by the possibility that they--and we--could belong here. An open-backed truck arrived and we climbed on, Papa lifting Naomi and me, saying it was from a Jewish service, had come to collect us. We were packed tight enough to be held up by each other's bodies. I smelled my own fear, all our sweat, a hundred broken fevers. I wished desperately for a shower. We'd washed in a small cubicle on the ship. I was hoping so much for an actual bath here. We were all, even chatty Alexi, too shocked to speak. Except Naomi, who shouted, "Ah, ah, ah," from Papa's arms. Her eyes had begun to look green--they'd been gold before, the color of coins or a lion's mane. I was glad for this change and relieved she had no words. Even if we'd known what to say about this place, what language would we have used? The dock was behind us, baking in the sun, crowded with men, some bearded with turbans, others in white shirts and khaki shorts, still more in military uniforms. I hoped to see the religious men again, but they were gone. I knew, in a strange and certain way, just how alike we suddenly were, those men and I. Even though all that connected us was being here, being Jewish. In that instant of looking out at the city, I saw everyone else and also saw myself among them, another stranger. Excerpted from Someday We Will Fly by Rachel Dewoskin All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.