Sunday, November 28, 2010

Little Paradise by Gabrielle Wang

As Mirabel watched him, she could not bear the thoughts creeping up on her.  JJ was in the Chinese army and his mission in Australia would one day be over.  Then she would be just like the others, a girl left behind in the wake of war.  'I'm afraid,' she whispered. 'When the war ends . . . what's going to happen to us?'
He put his arm around her and stroked her face.  She knew he could not answer that question.  But she wanted him to lie, to say that he would take her with him, that they would be together always.
Melbourne, 1943, and Mirabel is seventeen.  She's leaving school, designing dresses, falling in love.  Then fate intervenes, her forbidden affair is discovered, and JJ is posted back to China where a civil war is raging.  Despite all warnings, Mirabel sets off for Shanghai to find him . . .
Little Paradise is inspired by a true story.

Little Paradise has been described as "an epic love story set during World War Two in Melbourne and Shanghai"

I am more than a little in awe of  how well incorporated the little details of setting and culture and  have been weaved into the story. It's intricate and lyrical and one of those stories where you truly feel transported to the time and place while reading. It's a perfect example of research not bogging down a story - just used deftly to make it shine. Once the scene is set, the story flows along wonderfully. (The beginning, while beautifully written, took a little for me to warm up into).

The story is fascinating and always a little unexpected. There's family dramas and secrets (I personally loved the Mirabelle's Mothers story - fascinating and mind-boggling), there's friends and a war-time romance, which is kept a secret from Mirabelle's family. There's intrigue, love and disappointments. There's scandal and mental illness and daring adventures.

It's epic not only in it's settings from Melbourne to Adelaide and then a war devastated Shanghai, but also in the period of life Mirabel is going through - she begins as a 17 year old dreamer, longing for love and tinkering with art to having an illegitimate child, risking her life through a war-torn nation in search of JJ, her soldier boyfriend. By the end of the novel Mirabel is in her early twenties.

I loved all the little snippets Wang snuck in the narrative concerning Chinses culture and history. They slipped so effortlessly into the prose adding a richness to the story.

I really enjoyed the first half in Melbourne - but the second half - wow - the story just really took off in China. I was captivated and amazed at events that unfolded. It's really stunning - even more so considering it is inspired by a true story.

Recommended: Anyone who loves historical fiction, fascinating cultural history or a war-torn love story will really appreciate and enjoy this. It's a beautifully told story, heart-felt and powerful - a story that will resonate after the last page. It's particularly rich in setting and just oozes heart.

Bonus: I wasn't sure about copyright so I haven't posted the images here - but you should check out these illustrations  Gabrielle's mum drew, which are also included inside the book (scroll down a little). Just stunning.

The girl on the front cover in that stunning blue dress? It's actually a photo of Gabrielle's mother!

Links you may be interested in:

Little Paradise @ goodreads
Little Paradise @ Penguin
Read an extract
About Gabrielle Wang
Gabrielle Wang's website

Many thanks to Penguin Australia for sending me this review copy


  1. I am not a big fan of historical fiction but this one days sound interesting because of the setting. Great review Nomes :)

  2. I love historical fiction especially ones based on true events.This book sounds really really good. Thank you so much for the review!

  3. I love historical fiction and between your description of the story, the trailer and the cover, I am very impressed. I believe I would fall in love with this book. Thanks for turning me on to it.

  4. I love this book:D And the fact that I live in Melbourne makes it even more fun to read. Love the review

  5. ALl of the background info for this book is fascinating! And I love that trailer... I think I'd really enjoy this one since I'm a huge fan of historical fiction. Thanks for pointing this out, Nomes! And of course thanks for the great review!

  6. I love historical fiction and this one sounds like one I'd enjoy. Bad news for Mt TBR but thanks muchly for the recommendation :)

  7. I'd only heard the title and thought it was some fantasy novel. But after reading your review (duh!) I want to give it a go, even though historical fiction isn't my most favourite.

    btw, whose 'true story' is this novel based on?

  8. I am finally reading this one, after far too long. And loving it!

    Thanks for another awesome review Nomes :)


Thanks for the commenty love :)