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Saturday, September 20, 2014

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A privileged childhood in China

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In her book Growing Up Jewish in China, Canadian author and speaker Dolly Beil writes about her privileged youth in that country.

She was born in Tsingtao, a port city in China on Dec. 25, 1927, and grew up in Mukden, Harbin and Tientsin, where Jews were treated well by the Chinese and quite well by the occupying forces.

Beil’s father came from a prominent, wealthy family, descendants of Solomon Guterman of Irkatsk, Siberia. Her mother, Bassia, who was born in China, married Alexander Guterman.

The book’s rich and colourful descriptions of the lives of Jews in China reflect the opportunities that Jews had when they came to China from Russia during the construction of the Trans-Siberian railway.

In her youth, Beil had access to a good education and became fluent in Russian, Mandarin and English. She also made extensive trips with her family across China and to Japan.

Against the backdrop of her childhood, the book includes historical facts dating back many centuries as well as descriptions of the events that affected her family when they lived in China.

Beil writes of the Japanese occupation, the attack on Pearl Harbor, the liberation by the Americans at the end of World War II, the civil war, the Communist takeover forces and the eventual flight of foreign nationals facing numerous hardships.

Beil’s joy in growing up in China comes through clearly in the book, as she describes the dreams and accomplishments of her youth in an exotic country and a historically fascinating era.

Growing Up Jewish in China also includes numerous photographs of Biel’s family, the places where they lived, historical events and Chinese landmarks.

Her vivid memories of love, scandals, births and deaths are described in detail, including her marriage in 1946 when she was conveyed to the wedding in a rickshaw.

Her book ends as she arrives on Canadian soil, and Beil says it was only the Communist takeover in China that convinced her and her husband to leave China and join their family in Toronto in 1952.

“The benefit of both cultures, Chinese and Canadian,” she says, “has left a very positive mark and a broader perspective and a sense of balance in my life.”

She is currently working on a second book about her life in Canada.

 

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