A Fascinating Family Saga Told in Reverse: Read an Excerpt of SHANGHAILANDERS by Juli Min

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It’s 2040, and successful Shanghai real estate investor Leo Yang has just seen his family off at the airport. They’re headed to Boston without him, unaware that one daughter will share a secret that changes the course of their travel and their lives.

From there, the story winds back in time all the way to 2014 as Juli Min presents the Yang family through the points-of-view of the people who encounter. While they live in a world where apocalypse feels all too possible, they are also firmly grounded in the ever-present complex realities of love and family.

Shanghailanders is Juli Min’s debut novel, available May 7 wherever books are sold.

Eko tried the hotel first. The girls were not there. Eko had never had to call the police in all her years in China. She racked her brain for the number. Was it 110? 112? In Japan, it was 110. In France, 17. 120? 911? Would she have to wait twenty-four hours? Forty-eight? She fumbled with her phone and tried 110. She got it right. A policeman was asking her, “What is the problem, ma’am?”

“My daughters, they’re missing.”

“OK. When was the last time you saw them?”

“This morning. No. This afternoon—after lunch. Around two o’clock.”

He took their names, their ages, their physical features, their last-known location, the description of their ponies.

“If they’ve taken the ponies, it’s not likely they’re going into the city. My guess is they’re heading into nature, maybe up the mountain. What else did they take with them?” Eko told him about the camping pack. A tent, a packet of snacks.

“Are they capable outdoors?”


“It’s a good thing there are three of them together.”

“They’re very good at fighting.”

“Like, kung fu?”


There was a pause. “So do you want a search team sent out?

Or . . .”

“Yes, I want a search team! Dogs. Whatever you have. If it requires money, we can pay additional, no limit. A helicopter. Yes—why not a helicopter? Can you get us a helicopter? There’s no time to waste!”

“We’ll get on the case right away,” he replied. “We’ll dispatch a team to your home to get more information. Please stay where you are.”

Eko hung up. Leo came in and said, “One of the guns is gone.”

• • •

How she would hate him—never forgive him—if anything happened to the girls. For he had gone on and on in the way he was prone to, the way she had let him, always, through the years. A lecture, a talk, a lesson, while she tried to pin down and silence her anger, to listen, to understand. To resist the feeling of futility and failure. She would never be enough, she would always be a work in progress. She, usually too tired to put up a fight, had by that evening had enough. No one but her would cook the dinner.

No one would even think about cooking dinner until it was too late. And it was nearly five o’clock, the sun low in the sky between the trees that stood erect and proud outside the window behind her storming husband. She stood, silent and proud, like them. The sun would soon go down on this argument. And because of what? Because she had not wrapped the wet swimsuits properly and half the clothes in the hamper were now damp, drying on the balcony. That was indicative of a long-standing pattern, apparently. Her casual and sloppy manner, her inability to live a good life. Eko had tried to remain calm. Through his accusations, through the inevitable generalizations about the flaws in her character, through the exhausting enumeration and evaluation of her efforts at improvement over the years.

But she had mentioned dinner. And then she had mentioned it again. She knew it irked him. What he wanted was not a signal to cut the argument short, even though it had been going on for the better part of four hours, but an acknowledgment of his correctness, a dialogue about the probability of conquering this personality flaw and therefore of securing happiness, about establishinga three-step program of accountability.

Eko did not give it to him, however. Instead, she said quietly,

“If you don’t let me get started on dinner, I’m going to go insane.”

Of course, that escalated the pitch and tenor of his anger, his disappointment, his demand. And so she opened the cabinet, took out the porcelain plates one by one, and smashed them onto the ground. They were so satisfyingly fragile.

At the mention of the gun, Eko jumped into action. She was packing her things. She was getting ready to leave. Leo hovered over her, placed himself in the doorway.

“Don’t leave this house. If you leave now, that’s the end. I won’t stand for it. I won’t forgive you.”

Eko turned from her packing, which was difficult; she could feel the pull of it, the pull of her daughters, calling her away. It was magnetic, irresistible.

“You have asked too much of me,” she said. “It is enough. It is enough. It is too much.” And she pushed past him as she walked out the door.

Eko, entering the forest, was thinking of the time she’d lost Yumi, when her daughter was almost two. They’d gone to the mall, were walking around the grocery store in the basement. One moment she was reaching for a pack of frozen pizzas, Yumi standing next to her. The next, Yumi was gone, nowhere to be seen from the frozen section. She ran up and down the nearest aisles, and then she went to the cashier. “Send out a message, please,” she asked. Her Chinese was not good, but she could get that much across.

“Yumi Yang, Yumi Yang. Please come to the checkout counter.

Your mother is looking for you.”

She showed the clerk several photos of Yumi and described what she was wearing—a dress adorned with bumblebees and blueberry bushes. Her hair was pulled back into two pigtails. She had bangs that sat low over her eyes.

Eko nearly cried when describing her daughter. It might have been that she was heavily pregnant and hormonal. She thought of losing her first on the eve of birthing her second. It would be the saddest of happy times. What was that? Tragedy? Irony? She couldn’t find the word for it. She’d lived between two languages, and now a few years in China. Her vocabularies were all mediocre, blending into one another, replacing one another. Yumi, on the other hand, spoke Chinese fluently. It was her language of choice—with ayi, with Daddy, with her nursery school friends. Eko put her phone away and told the clerk, “Keep her here if she comes. I’m going to look for her as well.”

“Yes,” he replied. “And I’ll alert the mall, in case she left the grocery.”

“The CCTV!” another cashier cried out. And then the three of them were shuffling into a side room—a closet, really—filled with screens.

Eko scanned each one quickly. The bumblebees, the blueberry bushes. The chocolate-and-sweets aisle, the cereal aisle, the ice cream aisle—the places Yumi liked best. Oh! There was the little red triangle of the children’s shopping-cart flag, alert on its pole.

Yumi was standing in the fresh seafood aisle, staring at an enormous grouper. Eko was in the seafood section before she knew it. So she had taken the fastest route, so she had memorized the twists and turns and layout of the store even better than she’d realized. So she had been living this life for so long.

Yumi was still right where she’d been on the cameras. Her cart was filled with candy and chocolate. She had visited her favorite aisles first.

Eko ran at her and folded her into an embrace. “My little one. Where did you go? Why did you run off like that? Mommy didn’t know where you were. Please don’t ever do that again.”

“Mommy, I kept saying I wanted to go pick some chocolates.”

“Did you, my love? I didn’t hear you. I’m sorry.”

“You didn’t hear me, Mommy.”

“Oh, sweets, I’ll listen. Let’s go home now, though.” Eko bought all the chocolates in Yumi’s cart.

Back at home, while Yumi happily played with her nanny, Eko thought about what she’d been doing, thinking, that she hadn’t heard Yumi’s repeated requests for chocolate. She had been letting her mind wander, thinking about getting a job. She had been questioning whether things would be different if she had found work instead of being just a mother. Whether she would be different. Whether her relationship with Leo would be different. Her relationship with herself. She had been thinking, when reaching for those pizzas, of how she would have been better off as a career woman—independent, strong, and capable.

And now, again.Were they really gone? Were they lost, attacked, kidnapped? Eko felt the tragedy roiling from her gut. And yet she moved quickly, propelled forward into the dark of the forest. Nothing mattered—not even the thought that her marriage would collapse—that old, familiar fear. Her girls were missing. They were missing!

Eko screamed into the darkness: “Yumi! Yoko! Kiko!” How many times had she called out for her girls like that—just like that, in that order, from oldest to youngest? She thought of themas babies, those lovely days filled with happy memories of Leo holding them, throwing them into the air like dolls. But the girls were in the forest. They were in danger. She knew it. She knew them like she knew herself.

At home, the rooms were dark except for a corner in the living room. Leo sat in his armchair, trying to read a book on a battle during the First World War. He was agitated. He couldn’t focus. Eko had left. And now he was sitting at home, on principle. She had not wanted to sit with him, to wait out the girls’ coming home. She’d wanted to call the police. No. He’d been confident—they had enough survival skills. 

“Even Kiko?” Eko had asked.

Yes, even Baby. Maybe she was the savviest of them all.

Even the gun wasn’t something to worry about, not really, although Eko clearly didn’t agree. As she packed her bag, he followed her around the room—telling her in a firm and then angry voice that he would not join her in her expedition. She was doing the wrong thing, coddling them. She always coddled them.

“Those are my girls,” she said, turning to him, her eyes burning. But he matched it. “They’re your girls? They aren’t mine too?” He told her then that she must not leave the house; but Eko threw her bag over her shoulder and ran out the door.

Leo was alone now. It was the thing he hated most. Leo wrestled with himself, sitting beside the lone lamp. They were all gone. And Eko—Eko was going to make a mess of it. Had she even taken a horse? If so, had she remembered her helmet? He had been thrown off a horse once, riding in France. His back still hurt on rainy days.

The girls would have taken their helmets, he was sure. But now, with the question in his mind, he would have to head to the stables. Just to check. If he didn’t check, he would think about it all night, wouldn’t sleep a wink. Damn! He was going to have to go, wasn’t he? He knew the trails better than anyone else. He had the best navigating abilities in the family. Eko didn’t know her left from her right. He was left no choice. He collected his things. He walked out the door, but halfway to the stables he was running.

They were all out on the mountain now. The girls were packing up the fire, close to the top. Their mother was making her way up the path, on foot. And Leo was getting set up on Py. He was rushing. He would find them; he would find them before she would.

Excerpted from Shanghailanders © 2024 by Juli Min. Published with permission of Spiegel & Grau.

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