Angel Wagenstein translated from the Bulgarian by Deliana Simeonova, by Elizabeth Frank

Farewell, Shanghai

Publication Date: Nov 04, 2008

400 pp

Trade Paperback

List Price US $13.95
ISBN: 9781590513088

Elisabeth and Theodore Weissberg, famous musicians, Hilde, a young film extra, and Vladek, an Eastern European adventurer wanted by the police on political charges, flee Nazi Germany for Shanghai at the onset of World War II. A magnet for every human ambition and vice, Shanghai is a city of extremes–of dazzling wealth and wretched poverty, suffering and pleasure, and, for the four refugees, exile and safety. There, they enter the world of Jewish refugees, many of them artists and intellectuals, who must either starve or eke out an impoverished and sometimes degraded living, but they are determined to live intelligently, upholding the high culture, humor, and even, insofar as they can, the elegance of their former lives. Master storyteller Angel Wagenstein crafts an intense narrative of life and death, passionate love, and profound courage against the backdrop of the war and the millions of lives caught up in it.

Excerpt from Farewell, Shanghai

Library Journal

Wagenstein intelligently interweaves the voices of several characters, whose common thread is their desire to live in safety. Winner of the 2004 Jean Monnet Award, this novel sheds light on a forgotten part of history that is only now becoming known. Recommended.

Publishers Weekly

“Moving effortlessly from Paris to Dresden to Shanghai, Wagenstein (Isaac’s Torah) masterfully chronicles the lives of European émigrés and refugees in WWII Shanghai…Wagenstein is impressive in his ability to move from the small details of individual displaced lives to a larger panorama of international intrigue…[he] brings to life a largely unknown chapter of Nazi persecution”

San Francisco Chronicle

The Bulgarian novelist sets refugees, spies and a few true believers into play for a sprawling and utterly engaging book…the strong connections between the characters illustrate not only the persistence of human nature but also the illogic of war.

Grand Rapids Press

For readers and dreamers, doers and seekers, a book can make the holiday and the coming year more meaningful. Here are some good picks to fill out your shopping list…
Farewell, Shanghai,by Angel Wagenstein
World War II Shanghai is a terrible haven for many German Jews fleeing the Nazis. Wagenstein, a Bulgarian whose book has been translated into English, has crafted a tense tale of love and loss, war and peace that focuses on Shanghai, a place of stunning poverty and dazzling wealth.


Farewell, Shanghai captures this political and cultural maelstrom during World War II. Vividly written, paced like a thriller and rich with cinematic detail, the reader can practically smell the fetid, swampy air of the city. Wagenstein’s smoothly translated and fluid narrative has a sardonic edge…The riveting story of the Jews in Shanghai in the 1930s and ’40s might seem hardly credible, but as Wagenstein archly says, “Is there anything more implausible than History?”

The Advocate (Baton Rouge, LA)

Wagenstein is one of Bulgaria’s greatest modern writers. In Farewell, Shanghai, he has constructed a fascinating and profoundly moving roman à clef.

National Jewish Post & Opinion

This is a narrative filled with barbarity and inhumanity leavened with fortitude and bravery. The fictional format chosen by the author provides an excellent vehicle for him to describe a relatively unfamiliar aspect of what happened to Jews during World War II. What he so ably sets forth has the true air of credibility, adding significantly to our knowledge about the Holocaust.

A Note from Angel Wagenstein: The Shanghai ghetto: a little known page from the tragedy of the Jews during World War II. About thirty thousand refugees from Nazism, primarily German and Austrian Jews, sought asylum in Shanghai-according to a narrow statute still formally an open city, but in actuality under Japanese occupation. During these years, the great Far-Eastern port was a hub of economic, political and military interests, diplomatic intrigues and international spy rings. For the fugitives from Europe, Shanghai initially conjured up illusions of joyous salvation; under pressure, however, by their German allies, the Japanese authorities quickly transformed a shabby section of town into a dismal Jewish ghetto. There its new inhabitants-of whom the greater part were intellectuals-experienced all the brutality of Japanese militarism and the bitterness of humiliation. But also the forces of civilian courage, solidarity and intense human empathy.

Although the subject of the novel is developed against the background of colliding historical events, its essential fabric is woven from actual human destinies, documented facts and those turbulent emotions-love and faith, hope and despair.

In Farewell, Shanghai, I have made use of rich archival material, including memoirs and personal contacts with surviving participants of actual events, various historical investigations, and repeated visits to China in search of traces of this Shanghai tragedy. Especially important material has been drawn from declassified secret intelligence archives, as well as recent research on the activities and the tragic end of the “Ramsay” espionage group, led by the legendary Soviet agent, Richard Sorge.


1. What are some of the ways the Jews in Shanghai survive psychologically and maintain their dignity? Is humor one of their coping devices?

2. How do the Japanese and Chinese regard the Jews?

3. There is plenty of evidence for the “Law of Universal Disgustingness” in Farewell, Shanghai, but there are also numerous acts of unexpected kindness, generosity, and courage that undermine that law. Does the book give you hope despite its sometimes pessimistic tone?

4. Some of the more fragile characters survive while some of the strongest and most resilient break down. Why do you think this happens? Did the suicides come as a shock?

5. How does Farewell, Shanghai expose the “myth of Jewish solidarity”? Do you believe that Hitler and the Holocaust united Jews from around the world?

6. The narrator expresses cynicism about the leaders of governments in general. Does this seem accurate?

7. Farewell, Shanghai raises the question of whether Roosevelt knew in advance about the attack on Pearl Harbor. Do you think this may have been true? If it was, how do you understand his motivation for not acting on it?

8. Personal friendship overrides national and political allegiance in some cases in Farewell, Shanghai. What are the examples of this? In what sense do you find these ethical or understandable? In what sense do you find them objectionable?

9. What role does music play in Farewell, Shanghai?

10. Does the context of war create a moral ambiguity that produces some surprising actions, with decent people being forced to act against some of their principles while their cruel enemies sometimes act humanely? What seems to be the author’s attitude toward the moral challenges of war?