Author: Marion Cuba
The following review was contributed by: NORM GOLDMAN: Editor of Bookpleasures. CLICK TO VIEW Norm Goldman's Reviews
“Your mother,” she repeats, dipping her nurse’s cap toward Hannah’s room again, “she is like a melon that will never ripen, Miss Silver,” is what the nurse tells the dying woman’s daughter, Maya.
That unripened melon, Maya soon discovers is her mother’s diary dating back to 1938, when approximately twenty thousand European Jews escaped Nazi Germany to Shanghai and created a unique ghetto. Why Shanghai? It was the only city in the world that accepted foreigners without any entry requirements.
Marion Cuba’s debut novel, Shanghai Legacy, draws her central character, Maya, into the private thoughts and secrets of her mother Hanna, whom she never fully knew, and whose childhood had been lost amidst the life-changing hardships she had endured while a refugee in Shanghai.
Maya is hungry to explore an era that was never spoken about in their household and of which she was ignorant. Moreover, Maya realizes, objects such as diaries, hold meaning, as they reveal an individual’s aspirations and dreams, as well as their eventual relationships with family members.
All of this becomes vividly possible by the discovery of Hannah’s German diary recounting her teen-age experiences in Shanghai. The diary is translated to Maya by an antique dealer Sam Ascher, whom she hires to appraise her later mother’s furniture. Sam is a former attorney, who has taken over his father’s business, and as Maya subsequently learns, is a child of Holocaust survivors.
Interwoven into the narrative is Maya’s discovery of herself and her cold and difficult relationship with her husband, Harold, who is a prominent ophthalmologist, and very much wrapped up in himself and his profession. Maya challenges Harold’s repressive hold over her when she decides to keep her mother’s home that she has inherited. This leads to her frequent stays in the house, while it is being renovated. However, it also causes some guilt feelings, as she questions herself playing house alone and not even thinking of Harold, as well as her life in Chappaqua.
There is a good story here; unfortunately, it is jumbled up in the roots of a much longer tale that needs to be told. How much richer would it have been if there was more detailed exploration of just how much Hanna’s life affected that of her daughter’s. Nonetheless, the author shows a great deal of promise and the novel certainly deserves a read.