The Box with the Sun­flower Clasp by Rachel Meller

The Box with the Sun­flower Clasp by Rachel Meller

Uncovering a Jewish Family’s Flight to Wartime Shanghai

Rachel Meller was never close to her aunt Lisbeth, a cool, unemotional woman with a drawling Viennese-Californian accent, a cigarette in her hand. But when Lisbeth died, she left Rachel an intricately carved Chinese box with a sunflower clasp. Inside the box were photographs, letters and documents that led Rachel to uncover a story she had never known: that of a passionate Jewish teenager growing up in elegant Vienna, who was caught up by war, and forced to flee to Shanghai.

Far from home, in a strange city, Lisbeth and her parents build a new life – a life of small joys and great hardship, surrounded by many others who, like them, have fled Hitler and the Nazis. 1930s Shanghai is a metropolis where the old rules do not apply – a city of fabulous wealth and crushing poverty, where disease is rife, and gangsters rub shoulders with rich emigrés; where summer brings unspeakable heat, and winter is bitterly cold; and where European refugees build community and, maybe, a young woman can find love.

Set against a backdrop of the war in the Far East, The Box with the Sunflower Clasp is a sweeping family memoir that tells the hidden history of the Jews of Shanghai. Rachel Meller writes with elegance and insight as she examines what it means to survive, and what the legacy of displacement and war might mean for the generation that comes afterwards.

Year first published: 2023

Read a review on Jewish Book Council

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