Title: The Jade Lily
Author: Kirsty Manning
Published: April 24th 2018
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Genres: Fiction, Historical/Contemporary
Rating: 5 stars
In 2016, fleeing London with a broken heart, Alexandra returns to Australia to be with her grandparents, Romy and Wilhelm, when her grandfather is dying. With only weeks left together, her grandparents begin to reveal the family mysteries they have kept secret for more than half a century.
In 1939, two young girls meet in Shanghai, the ‘Paris of the East’: beautiful local Li and Viennese refugee Romy form a fierce friendship. But the deepening shadows of World War Two fall over the women as Li and Romy slip between the city’s glamorous French Concession and the desperate Shanghai Ghetto. Eventually, they are forced separate ways as Romy doubts Li’s loyalties.
After Wilhelm dies, Alexandra flies to Shanghai, determined to trace her grandparents’ past. As she peels back the layers of their hidden lives, she begins to question everything she knows about her family – and herself.
A gorgeously told tale of female friendship, the price of love, and the power of hardship and courage to shape us all.
Kirsty Manning makes a triumphant return to the Australian historical fiction scene with her second novel, The Jade Lily. It is a novel that takes the reader from the precarious times of World War II Austria, to the cosmopolitan streets of Shanghai, through to modern-day Melbourne. If you are looking for a tale that will sweep you away into times gone by, look no further than The Jade Lily.
The Jade Lily is a multiple time frame narrative that begins with present day heroine Alexandra. Nursing a broken heart, Alexandra feels she must escape London and return home to Australia. Embraced by the love of her dear grandparents, Romy and Wilhelm, Alexandra’s return home is marked by the sad decline of her grandfather, who only has a short time left to live. In these precious few weeks with her grandparents, long-held family secrets are unravelled. Linking to Alexandra’s present day journey is the powerful story of two girls who meet in Shanghai in 1939. The fateful meeting between Li, a local girl and Romy, a young girl who has escaped Vienna with her family, will change both their lives forever. An unmistakable bond forms between these two young girls, which helps the both of them survive the dangers of World War II. However, a big test to their friendship occurs and the two drift away from one another. Romy in particular finds it hard to support Li when her heart feels like it has been broken. The Jade Lily links these two different pathways to self discovery when Alexandra makes the journey to Shanghai. Armed with only a few pieces of information on the past her grandparents tried so hard to lock away, Alexandra is determined to discover her hidden ancestry. The Jade Lily is one engrossing tale that deftly combines the power of friendship, all encompassing love, the limitations of war and it reminds us of the valour displayed by those who lived through one of the harshest points in our world history.
If there is one novel that I have been eagerly awaiting to get my hands on, it is my favourite Australian author, Kirsty Manning’s second and latest novel, The Jade Lily. Those who follow my reviews and reading tastes know that I have endorsed Kirsty Manning’s writing and her first novel, The Midsummer Garden as much as I can. I declared The Midsummer Garden my favourite novel of 2017 (and I read a lot of books). I also openly stated Kirsty Manning is my ‘Stella Spark’. Kirsty is a writer who inspires and transports you to another world through her novels. So perhaps now you have a good feel for the high level of anticipation and excitement I had going into The Jade Lily. I am pleased to report that I simply adored The Jade Lily and if I could award more than the standard 5 star rating, I would!
I think when a novel is so good and has touched you in a way that The Jade Lily has with this reader, you find yourself lost for words. I do believe the best I can do for The Jade Lily and this review is to let the story speak for itself. I was literally blown away by the hidden history of this novel. It is a good thing that we are still digging up snippets of pertinent World War II happenings and showcasing these pivotal events via quality historical fiction titles. In The Jade Lily’s case, the hidden history of Shanghai’s Jewish population and the amount of refugees who were welcomed into this part of the world, where other countries blankly refused, absolutely floored me. It is hard not to read this novel and feel a lump in your throat form. I also felt a strong sense of regret wash over me as I uncovered this rather concealed moment of history.
The Jade Lily takes a multiple narrative approach to the format of the novel, which is a style of novel I always gravitate towards. As with Manning’s first novel, The Jade Lily effortlessly sews the threads of the present day together with the past precisely. Manning is an expert in the art of the slow reveal, gently enticing the reader in both aspects of her narrative, so one informs the other. I loved the family secrets and secrets pertaining to Alexandra’s ancestry that defined this novel. It was one of the overwhelming reasons why I was utterly absorbed in the novel. I enjoyed it immensely and I liked the final turn of events in the novel, I welcomed the final twist with gusto!
Manning’s characterisation is finely tuned. I loved the presentation of both her present day and past characters. I gave my heart out to Romy, I just loved her both in the present and in the past. I think Nina is the hidden heroine of the novel and for me she really stood out as being so central to the storyline. Meanwhile, the characters that define the Shanghai wartime storyline are just so colourful they burst from the pages of this novel.
Setting wise, both the time period and placement of The Jade Lily was sculpted to perfection. I have nothing to fault and I must praise Kristy Manning for getting a diverse range of locales across the globe and specific time periods so precise. It is the finer details that Manning carefully includes in her novel that really makes this book something special. It is clear that Manning has done an exceptional job in combining all her relevant resources to inform each setting of her novel extremely well.
There is so much to love about the themes in this novel, from family secrets, ancestry, the World War II experiences, refugees, displacement, female friendship and forbidden love. Manning also inserts a rich cultural aspect to her novel, especially in the Shanghai based aspects, where we learn some much about traditional medicine and techniques, cooking, architecture and the stunning gardens of this part of the world. The most moving part of the novel for me were the letters incorporated within the past story between Romy’s brother David and his family while he was in Dachau. These were moving, authentic and utterly devastating.
Manning has devoted a lot of time and energy on the finishing touches of her novel. Be sure to check out her Author’s Note and detailed sources section, which adds further insight into the making of this great novel.
As I come to the close of this review, I put my hand and my heart and appeal to you, if there is one book I can recommend, it is The Jade Lily. It is a very special, one of a kind novel, that will enhance your reading mind, providing a most accessible approach to a little known aspect of our shared world history.
The Jade Lily was published on 24th April 2018 by Allen & Unwin. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.
To learn more about the author of The Jade Lily, Kirsty Manning visit here.
*I wish to thank Allen & Unwin for providing me with a free copy of this book for review purposes.
The Jade Lily is book #49 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge