Shanghai Diary by Ursula Bacon
Thus in March of 1939, eleven-year-old Ursula Blomberg and her parents set sail for Shanghai aboard the German steamship Gneisenau.
Shanghai Diary is Ursula Bacon’s fascinating if a bit unpolished memoir of her family’s eight long years in China.
Just because Shanghai was open to refugees (some 20,0000) didn’t mean the Chinese were especially welcoming.
The so-called “Shanghai Jews” were confined to “Designated Areas ” basically filthy ghettos with limited electricity and primitive plumbing. Disease was rampant; food was scarce. Multiple families lived in one dank room for which the Chinese landlords charged a fortune.
The Blombergs adapt, however, and in a few months they move to a slightly better section of town, the Concession Francaise. Ursula tutors wealthy Chinese girls, and her father’s painting business flourishes.
Then the Japanese invade. And things go from bad to worse.
What Shanghai Diary lacks in literary style, it more than makes up for in authenticity and spirit. Prior to reading this book, I was unfamiliar with the story of the “Shanghai Jews.” Ursula Bacon’s memoir brought it memorably to life.
I unearthed this book while remodeling my library this summer. No idea where or when I bought it, although I imagine Crawford Doyle in NYC. It is no longer in print, but you can probably find a used copy.
(I also highly recommend another memoir of the refugee experience, The Hare With Amber Eyes, the story of five generations of the Ephrussis family. )
WHO WROTE IT
Ursula Bacon married another young refugee in Shanghai and came to the United States in 1947 where she settled in Denver, raised two children and lived the American Dream. She was a frequent keynote speaker at women’s conferences and other educational events. She is the author of The Nervous Hostess Cookbook and Eternal Strangers. She died in 2013.
WHAT OTHER REVIEWERS SAY
Jewish Book World “While there are several memoirs of Jewish refugees in Shanghai during WWII, none are as personal, insightful, or delightful as Ursula Bacon’s Shanghai Diary. Bacon is a gifted storyteller.