Someday We Will Fly explores a little-known chapter of the Holocaust: the Jewish refuge of Shanghai.
Someday We Will Fly by Rachel DeWoskin. Viking, 2019, 368 pages
Reading Level: Teen, ages 12-15
Recommended for: ages 15-up
May 18, 1930: Lillia Kaczka, her family were supposed to leave Warsaw together. But Mama was delayed. The family waited until they could wait no longer. The train was leaving, and if they missed the train they would miss the boat and if they missed the boat their chances of surviving as Jews in Poland were drastically reduced. So they went: 15-year-old Lillia, her baby sister Naomi, and their Papa, hoping Mama would somehow manage to meet them later in Shanghai—the only place in the world that accepted Jewish refugees.
They arrive without a penny, find the Jewish colony, make connections and try to find work on pay that will barely keep them alive. “When I put the shred [of brisket] into my mouth, hunger and joy and the warmth of the fire that had roasted the meat came into my body . . . Food and hope were the same.” It’s a strange existence, all the more because the Japanese have taken over Shanghai and much of China. The invaders see the Jews as good luck—until Pearl Harbor seals their alliance with Germany. Then Jews aren’t so lucky.
The narrative covers almost two years of things going from bad to worse, but always with the hope of something better. Lillia, daughter of circus performers, makes sense of it by dreaming of a show: a performance of torn-up lives coming together again. “There were many ways for a story to end. I wanted to turn myself into [Moses’ sister] Miriam, a whisperer who knew what was coming and made it better, made it matter. I assembled and reassembled bodies, my only constants hunger and wonder.”
Though a bit too long, the writing is beautiful and deeply felt, a full-bodied immersion into another life and its dimensions. Lillia skates dangerously close to prostitution in her desperation to keep herself and her family alive, but that trap thankfully never springs and the story rewards their suffering.
Cautions: Sensuality (adultery; intimations of hard-luck prostitution)
Overall rating: 4.25 (out of 5)
- Worldview/moral value: 4
- Artistic value: 5