The Lives Before Us

The Lives Before Us


  • £8.99
    Unit price per 


"I wasn't sure I liked the sound of it. Even my vivid imagination could hardly fathom a place as tight, or dense, or narrow as Shanghai."

It's April 1939 and, with their lives in Berlin and Vienna under threat, Esther and Kitty – two very different women – are forced to make the same brutal choice. Flee Europe, or face the ghetto, incarceration, death.

Shanghai, they've heard, Shanghai is a haven – and so they secure passage to the other side of the world. What they find is a city of extremes – wealth, poverty, decadence and disease – and of deep political instability. Kitty has been lured there with promises of luxury, love, marriage – but when her Russian fiancé reveals his hand she's left to scratch a vulnerable living in Shanghai's nightclubs and dark corners. Meanwhile, Esther and her little girl take shelter in a house of widows until the protection of Aaron, Esther's hot-headed former lover, offers new hope of survival.

Then the Japanese military enters the fray and violence mounts. As Kitty's dreams of escape are dashed, and Esther's relationship becomes tainted, the two women are thrown together in the city's most desperate times. Together they must fight for a future for the lives that will follow theirs.

A sweeping story of survival, community and friendship in defiance of the worst threat to humanity the world has ever faced. From the author of the extraordinary The Uncommon Life of Alfred Warner in Six DaysThe Lives Before Us will particularly resonate with readers of Jeremy Dronfield (The Boy Who Followed His Father into Auschwitz), Anthony Doerr (All the Light We Cannot See), Heather Morris (The Tattooist of Auschwitz), and Costa-winner Bart van Es (The Cut Out Girl).

Product Details

Published: 28th March 2019
Format: Paperback 198x129mm
Extent: 400 pages
ISBN: 9781785302305


Juliet Conlin was born in London and grew up in England and Germany. She has an MA in Creative Writing from Lancaster University and a PhD in Psychology from the University of Durham. She works as a writer and translator and lives with her husband and four children in Berlin. Her novels include The Fractured Man (Cargo, 2013), The Uncommon Life of Alfred Warner in Six Days (Black & White Publishing, 2017), The Lives Before Us (2019) and Sisters of Berlin (2020).


'The Lives Before Us is an accomplished, poignant and fiercely compelling story.'

– The Reading Desk, five stars out of five

'It might only be April but this is certainly a contender for book of the year.'

– Whispering Stories, five stars out of five

'A beautiful story of survival, friendship, community and loss during one of the most horrendous periods of time in our history.'

– Steph Loves, four and a half stars out of five

'a gorgeously written, touching tale that fans of historical fiction will absolutely adore'

– The Bibliophile Chronicles, four stars out of five

'This is a really remarkable book, it takes a very dark part of history and together with compassionate and beautiful writing, transforms the story into an unforgettable tale'

 The Quiet Knitter

'Juliet Conlin has blended dark history beautifully into the novel and created a remarkable and unforgettable story.'

– The Portobello Book Blog

'Haunting and harrowing yet so full of hope, The Lives Before Us will take you on an incredible journey of friendship and survival during wartime.'

– The Bookshelf Butterfly



'Juliet Conlin vividdly recreates the lost world of wartime Shanghai's Jewish ghetto – a place of hope and despair in equal measure; a city of temporary refuge, yet continuing daily struggle. I was absorbed.'

 PAUL FRENCH, 'Shanghai's champion storyteller' and author of City of Devils

'The Lives Before Us opens up a captivating new world in a war I thought I knew about, a raucous Casablanca transposed to the East, filled with the intrigues of outcasts and determined survivors.'

– ALEX CHRISTOFI, author of Glass

'Juliet Conlin brings wartime Shanghai to vividly to life with a wealth of fascinating detail.' 

 SARA SHERIDAN, author of The Ice Maiden

'Chronicles the courage and endurance of two women in wartime Shanghai, separated, then reunited, in a dangerous and desperate place. Strongly drawn characters quickly demand attention, and empathy, and their compelling story charts a little known aspect of the Second World War,  and of a persecution felt far beyond Europe.' 

 SARAH MAINE, author of The House Between Tides

We Also Recommend