Night Angels by Weina Dai Randel

Night AngelsNight Angels by Weina Dai Randel
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a case of the story being better than the writing. The real story of Ho Feng-shan, a Chinese (Nationalist government pre-WWII) diplomat, is inspiring. He saved thousands of Austrian Jews from the holocaust by issuing them visas to Shanghai so that they could get exit permits from the Nazis. The gist of that story comes through, but even though it purports to be based on that true story, a scathing review by Ho’s daughter says it is a totally fictionalized melodrama that minimizes Ho’s intellect and bravery, making him at best a sort of slow-witted reluctant hero.

Whatever the factual details, Ho is much to be admired and the story is worth reading for that reason. Little about the writing or the (totally fictitious) story of Ho’s wife Grace is worth much more than that. The writing is clumsy, with misplaced modifiers and similar awkward constructions. The imagined parts of the plot are implausible and inconsistent. None of the characters is very likeable. It’s hard to care much about fictional characters when you know what happened to the real ones. It dragged in the first half, partly because it’s historical in nature, so we already know basically how it ends. It does pick up in tension through the second half and I read it to the end with interest.

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