Sunday 13 November 2022

Dinner at the Cathay, a Memoir of Old Shanghai, guest post by Lara de la Harpe

Dinner at the Cathay, a Memoir of Old Shanghai,
draws together the diverse threads of the author’s family history. Shanghai-born Maureen de la Harpe was eight months old when, in 1937,  as part of the Second Sino-Japanese War, the city was attacked by Japanese forces and two thousand people lost their lives. At the age of seven, her family and close relatives were interned in a Japanese concentration camp (Lunghua) where they were held until the end of WW2. The family left China a year later.

It was not until 2014 that the author returned to Shanghai, with her daughter Lara, to rediscover the city of her birth, and it was that visit that prompted them to begin tracking the lives of their forebears. The author discovered she was a fourth generation Shanghailander, whose family history spanned the period of foreign settlement in the city. 

In 1863, her great grandfather William Sayle arrived in China from the Isle of Man to make a new life in the Far East, and a decade later his cousin Eliza Radcliffe went out to Shanghai to marry him.

Around the turn of the century, the author’s grandfather Charles Richards, a young blacksmith fleeing a family tragedy, sailed to the city from Glasgow. He fell in love with and married Eliza’s daughter Esther.

Thirty years later, a young Dubliner Denis Beare abandoned his legal studies at Trinity College and left Ireland to join a large trading company in Shanghai.  Arriving at a time when the city was feted as the Paris of the East, Denis fell in love with Charles Richards’ daughter Violet. They were wed shortly before the Japanese invasion and the outbreak of WW2. The author is the eldest of the couple’s three daughters.

Through the lives of her Shanghailander ancestors and her own childhood experiences during the war, the author has woven the story of foreign settlement in the cosmopolitan city of Shanghai. 

Details: Dinner at the Cathay is published by Mapetu Publishing (Australia)  in paperback and eBook, priced in local currencies.