To Nini Karpel, growing up in Vienna during the 1920s was a romantic confection. Whether schussing down ski slopes or speaking of politics in coffee houses, she cherished the city of her birth. But in the 1930s an undercurrent of conflict and hate began to seize the former imperial capital. This struggle came to a head when Hitler took possession of neighboring Germany. Anti-Semitism, which Nini and her idealistic friends believed was impossible in the socially advanced world of Vienna, became widespread and virulent.
The Karpel's Jewish identity suddenly made them foreigners in their own homeland. Tormented, disenfranchised, and with a broken heart, Nini and her family sought refuge in a land seven thousand miles across the world.
Shanghai, China, one of the few countries accepting Jewish immigrants, became their new home and refuge. Stepping off the boat, the Karpel family found themselves in a land they could never have imagined. Shanghai presented an incongruent world of immense wealth and privilege for some and poverty for the masses, with opium dens and decadent clubs as well as rampant disease and a raging war between nations.
Ten Green Bottles is the story of Nini Karpel's struggles as she told it to her daughter Vivian so many years ago. This true story depicts the fierce perseverance of one family, victims of the forces of evil, who overcame suffering of biblical proportion to survive. It was a time when ordinary people became heroes.
For a brief period between 1938 and 1941, roughly 20,000 Jews found refuge from the Nazis in the one place not requiring visas, police certificates or proofs of financial independence: Shanghai. In this spellbinding memoir, Kaplan recounts her family's transition from the "delight" of Vienna to "a mysterious blob on the map, China." Writing in a fictional present tense, Kaplan narrates this evocative, moving saga in the voice of her mother, Nini. The halcyon early years of cafes and skiing end as the Nazis rise to power. Still, in 1936 when Nini meets her future husband, Poldi, a Polish refugee, she is "adamant that could never happen here." It does. By 1939, her family will make the month-long, 7,000-mile journey to Shanghai. Amid "pervasive poverty... overpowering heat... strange faces," Nini and Poldi find an anxious and precarious normality, but after Pearl Harbor, they struggle terribly. With the war's end comes the shock of learning what became of family and friends left behind in Europe. Although Vienna is rebuilt and a daughter (the author) is born, Communist troops arrive, and Nini and Poldi move again, this time to Canada. Kaplan's intimate knowledge of her parents' story makes it seem as if she experienced it herself, and her remarkable achievement will make readers feel that way, too.