Night Angels

Written by Weina Dai Randel
Review by Kate Braithwaite

Vienna, 1938. Austria has been annexed by the Germans, and anti-Jewish laws gradually take effect. Chinese Consul General Ho Fengshan and his wife, Grace, both have close friends in the Jewish community. Fengshan has been befriended by Mr. Rosenberg, a prominent lawyer, and introvert Grace’s only friend is Lola Schnitzler, a Jewish violinist and language tutor. When Rosenberg’s business is taken from him, and Lola’s brother is arrested, everyone hopes the 32 nations attending the Evian convention can offer hope to Jews seeking visas to rebuild their lives outside Austria. But when that comes to nothing, Fengshan decides to take matters into his own hands, making a powerful enemy in Adolph Eichmann, who will stop at nothing to end Fengshan’s unofficial Chinese visa program.

Skilfully blending complex international history and politics with characters caught up in the plight of the Austrian Jewish population, Randel brings this fact-based story of courage and resistance to vivid life. Both main characters are well-developed and influenced by their upbringing. Fengshan’s Confucian principles are tested when he’s order by his superiors to stop giving visas to Jews. Grace, a mixed-race American, damaged by her mother’s rejection but bolstered by her love of poetry, yearns for a child. Wartime demands that both characters grow and adapt, and the pressure on their marriage takes its toll.

While I turned the pages quickly to find out what would happen to Fengshan and Grace, my greater take-aways from reading Night Angels were the insights on China’s position leading up to World War II, and the focus on the effects of the Anschluss on everyday life in Vienna. Night Angels offers a fresh non-western-centric perspective on the rise of Nazism and Jewish persecution. Recommended.