An Epic Tale of Shanghai

In this week’s issue of Maclean’s, I profile David Rotenberg, author of several Shanghai-based mystery novels who now takes a more panoramic, James Clavell-esque view of the city in his recent novel – appropriately named SHANGHAI:

With the Summer Olympic Games in Beijing just wrapping up, China has

been on the minds of many, from sports fans to those with a larger

interest in the changing face of global politics and economics. But

China has been on the mind of David Rotenberg since 1994, when he

accepted a 13-week engagement to put on a production of George Ryga’s

The Ecstasy of Rita Joe with the Shanghai Theatre Academy. Rotenberg,

artistic director of the Toronto-based Professional Actors Lab, which

offers classes in acting, hasn’t been back to the city since — but the

trip paid off handsomely from a creative standpoint, spurring him to

write five critically acclaimed mystery novels featuring homicide

detective Zhong Fong.

Just before the most recent entry, The

Golden Mountain Murders, was published in 2005, Rotenberg received a

lunch invitation from Penguin Canada publisher David Davidar. As

Rotenberg recounted in a recent telephone interview, he thought they’d

be discussing a sixth Zhong Fong novel, but the talk veered to

something altogether different: “They wanted me to do for Shanghai what

James Clavell had done for Hong Kong.” Three-and-a-half years and 1,100

manuscript pages later, just in time for the Beijing Games (“A

wonderful bonus,” said Davidar), the end result is Shanghai, an epic

novel spanning thousands of years with the kind of larger-than-life

characters and page-turning qualities that turned Clavell’s Tai-Pan

(1966) and Shogun (1975), as well as the doorstoppers of James

Michener, into perennial bestsellers.

Read on for the rest.