“You can’t walk away from love. It clings to you night and day.”
The rare and seamless harmony of medicine, fiction, and history is the mortar to Daniel Kalla’s new novel, THE FAR SIDE OF THE SKY. Kalla sheds light on the period from 1938 –
1942, when persecuted Jews were forced to flee their homelands for safety, many finding solace in Shanghai, the only place whose doors were still open to them.
A city teeming with the Japanese Imperial Army, as well as myriad cultures, Shanghai represents everything from happiness to despair for the “stateless refugees”, including Dr. Franz Adler, his sister-in-law, Essie, daughter, Hannah, and friend, Ernst. In Shanghai, Franz works at the local and refugee hospitals, and meets Sunny Mah, a young and determined Chinese nurse. When the Japanese ally with Germany following the attack on Pearl Harbour, no one’s fate is secure. The importance of friendship, the reality of love, and the strength of family fills these pages, and will fill your heart.
The novel opens on November 9, 1938, a day remembered for Kristallnacht , “the night of broken glass”, a series of attacks on Jews, synagogues and Jewish businesses throughout Austria and Nazi Germany. Here, where one might expect statistics or meticulous numbers, Kalla delivers only the raw emotion of Franz Adler, a man hiding in his apartment, fearfully watching his neighbours tortured in the street below, his city mercilessly shattered, and his grief-stricken sister-in-law, who has just seen her murdered husband hanging from a lamp post.
And this emotion is all you need to truly understand.
You don’t need to know that nearly 3000 people were killed during Kristallnacht – not yet. You will discover all of these heartbreaking facts, and more, when you’re so moved by the end, as I was, that you feel compelled to research. Because the most wonderful, and chilling, aspect of Kalla’s novel is its adherence to fact – nearly everything described actually happened, though you don’t want to believe that it did. You will encounter familiar faces and places—you’ve heard of them before: Poland’s terrifying Chełmno concentration camp, Colonel Josef Meisinger, war-torn Vienna, Herschel Grynszpan, a Shanghai in constant flux, Adolf Hitler.
Kalla perfectly captures the present moment, making us feel that we are right there with the Adler family, sharing Essie’s grief over her lost husband, witnessing Franz’s unyielding commitment to his daughter, and learning of the horrifying treatment of European Jews. Yet in the midst of anguish, shines a glimmer of hope. Sunny’s determination, New Yorker Simon’s joviality, and the compassion shown by German and Chinese friends are touching and heartfelt.
THE FAR SIDE OF THE SKY is a genuine and powerful insight into the experiences, good and bad, of one Austrian family during years wrought with the injustice of a twisted and manipulative Nazi regime. The novel combines Kalla’s medical expertise with his knowledge of World War II to produce an addicting, moving, and magnificent story of, above all, hope.
This review is also published on Savvy Reader