Friday, August 10, 2012

Review: The Far Side of the Sky by Daniel Kalla

Hardcover, 464 pages Published June 5th 2012 by Tom Doherty Associates (first published September 20th 2011)
ISBN: 0765332337 (ISBN13: 9780765332332)
edition language: English

From the publisher:

November 9, 1938—Kristallnacht—the Nazis unleash a night of terror for Jews all across Germany. Meanwhile, the Japanese Imperial Army rampages through China and tightens its stranglehold on Shanghai, a city that becomes the last haven for thousands of desperate European Jews.

Dr. Franz Adler, a renowned surgeon, is swept up in the wave of anti-Semitic violence and flees to Shanghai with his daughter. At a refugee hospital, Franz meets an enigmatic nurse, Soon Yi “Sunny” Mah. The chemistry between them is intense and immediate, but Sunny’s life is shattered when a drunken Japanese sailor murders her father.
The danger escalates for Shanghai’s Jews as the Japanese attack Pearl Harbor. Facing starvation and disease, Franz struggles to keep the refugee hospital open and protect his family from a terrible fate.

The Far Side of the Sky focuses on a short but extraordinary period of Chinese, Japanese, and Jewish history when cultures converged and heroic sacrifices were part of the everyday quest for survival.

My thoughts: This has to be one of the best WWII stories I have read in quite a while. The author, Daniel Kalla, drew me in immediately with the dramatic events of Kristallnacht and the introduction of the main characters. Honestly, I think my heart rate sped up with fear for the fate of Franz, his sister-in-law Esther and his daughter, Hannah, as Jews were being pulled from their homes by the Nazis and murdered for no reason.

As the danger ramps up, Franz and his family frantically try to find a way out of Vienna. It seems every country had slammed their borders shut to emigrating Jews. Securing exit visas for himself, Esther and Hannah, the Adlers find themselves on the way to Shanghai, the only option left open to them. Obviously, they were heartbroken to leave their beloved city of Vienna but safety and survival had to be their first concern.

Shanghai was not to be confused with Shangri-la; once there, as refugees, the Adlers found it difficult to deal with shortages, horrid living conditions and the necessity to make a living. But, they hadn't reckoned on meeting Nazis half way around the world right in their new home or the threat of Japanese occupation  and the horrors of war encroaching right on their doorstep.

Kalla brings the characters to life so vividly, I felt like I was there with them. Shanghai is almost another character in the book, the sense of place is so well done, I thought I could feel the atmosphere of a world at war with numerous cultures living side by side trying to survive in the best way possible.

This is not just a story of survival and horrors under difficult situations but also a tender story of  courage, love, family and the goodness that can be found in the least unexpected of human hearts along with a theme of underlying hope.

 Having read numerous books on WWII with locations mainly in Europe, I was amazed to read that so many Jews along with Nazis ended up in Shanghai. I love the way Kalla took real life events and places and wove such a complex, rich story around them. The inclusion of several other plot lines and minor characters kept me captivated. Even though the book is 460 pages, I could not put it down. The pages just flew by as I was totally engaged the entire time. I loved it! 5*****

About the author: Born, raised, and still residing in Vancouver, Kalla spends his days (and sometimes nights) working as an ER Physician in an urban teaching hospital.

The idea for his first medical thriller, PANDEMIC, sprang from his clinical experience in facing the SARS crisis of 2003. He has written five science thrillers and or medical mysteries, delving into themes and topics as diverse as superbugs, drug addiction, prions, DNA evidence, pandemics and patient abuse. Kalla's sixth book, OF FLESH AND BLOOD, is a medical epic that features a world renowned hospital and two medical families who share a century of love, loss and healing.

Disclosure: A review copy of the book was provided by Forge in exchange for my honest opinion.


  1. Wow, you've made this sounds like a must read!

  2. After this review, I am putting this book at the top of my wishlist!

  3. I passed on this one because I have felt bombarded with the WWII/Holocaust story but nw I'm thinking that this shows the reader another side of the war that isn't being written about. I need to read it for sure!!!

  4. Wonderful review Kaye! I have felt bogged down with some of the WWII/Holocaust novels but this one sounds like it shows another side. I did not know Jews and Nazis went to Shanghai. I'm adding it to my wishlist!

  5. I hardly ever read stories about wars or the holocaust. I visited the Holocaust Museum in Washington DC a few years ago, but it was just to sad for me, about half way through the tour I had my granddaughter show me the way to the lobby and waited for the rest while they finished the tour. I have only watched "The Sound of Music" one time from beginning to end, now when I watch it I only watch until the part about the war begins, then I go back to reading a book. I'm a strange one for sure. ; )

  6. This one is new to me, and I will be adding it to my wish list. This sounds like a book I would love.

  7. I have read so many WWII books, but this one seems like it tackles things from a different angle, and I could get behind that. Excellent and very enticing review today. I might have to go out and look for this one when I can.

  8. This does seem like a different take on this topic. Glad it worked for you.

  9. I'm so thrilled that you loved this book as much as I did! Great review!

  10. I really like the sound of this one --can feel your excitement about it.

  11. Although this isn't normally my favorite kind of book, your excellent review has made me put it on my TBR list. Sounds wonderful. Thanks for such an exciting review!


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