Review of Lost In China, by Jennifer F. Dobbs

Jennifer Dobbs tells the story of the early part of her childhood, an idyllic life in China. At 6-years-old, she was the middle child and only girl of her British father and American mother, living in a western-style house in China. Servants and coolies attended to their needs, leaving her father to work and their parents to socialize in the evenings. Amah and, later, an au pair cared for the children. Still, Jennifer idolized her father and loved her mother. The time her parents spent with her and her younger brother (her older brother was at boarding school) was fun and adventurous, and even scary, as they moved several times to escape war.
War caught up with them at the end of 1941, while Jennifer’s parents were on a business and shopping trip in Hong Kong. Jennifer’s father was likely killed in a bombing, and the Japanese captured and imprisoned her mother in a POW civilian internment camp. During this “lost” period, adults shuffled Jennifer and her younger brother from Chinese servants to family friends to boarding school. The whole time, the children thought their parents would still come for them.
A prisoner exchange repatriated their mother to America in 1942. Mrs. Dobbs was now a mere 85 pounds and a widow, living with her mother and brother in Pennsylvania.
A kind-hearted pilot flew and escorted the children thousands of miles in a series of long and short flights from military bases and refueling stations along the wartime ferry route until they finally reached Washington, DC.
Disembarking the plane in DC, Jennifer didn’t recognize her mother at first; besides the weight loss, she wore a black mourning dress and veil. Her younger brother asked where their father was, and their mother gave them the clipped answer, “He’s dead.” She gave no explanation and didn’t speak anymore about her deceased husband.
Jennifer’s mother attended school, and after she graduated, she worked. She also began dating. Jennifer’s grandmother cared for her and her brother, now nine and seven-years-old. They saw very little of their mother.
It was as if Jennifer had lost both her parents. She could not process her grief and became disobedient. She acted out even more when her mother married a man who beat Jennifer with his belt. The rest of the book summarizes Jennifer’s life from high school graduation forward.
The book left me feeling sad. Based on Jennifer’s telling of this story, if her mother could have set aside her own grief and lovingly focused on her children, much of the heartache and emotional damage Jennifer experienced would have diminished. The book doesn’t mention any lasting impact of these experiences on Jennifer’s brothers, but clearly Jennifer did not receive the support she needed during this time.
It seemed the author sometimes attempted to write from a child’s perspective, but the result instead was those parts of the book could have targeted children readers. She repeated to exhaustion the “bump, bump, bump” of riding in the sedan chair, and the imitation of the air raid horn.
Even though the book left me sad, it was still interesting to read about China just before and during WWII.

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