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Welcome to an awe-inspiring world of Shanghai in the roaring 1920s.
White colonialists see themselves as the supreme race exploiting China for its cheap labor and reaping the rewards of its opium market. But then Russians come and ruin the perfect world Europeans and Americans built for themselves in China. Fleeing the Bolsheviks, Russian refugees arrive in thousands, noblemen and common laborers alike, ready to take any job and get their hands dirty. They don’t care if it made other white people look not so exceptional in front of the locals.
Klim Rogov, a Russian journalist famous for his wit, used to be a rich man who won the heart of a brilliant, passionate young business woman, Nina Kupina. Now, they find themselves in a rusty refugee ship anchoring in Shanghai harbor without money, documents, and any prospect in the near future, but Klim believes that he and Nina can cope with any challenge as long as they are together.
One night, Nina disappears from the ship amidst strange circumstances, and Klim’s fellow refugees suspect that she ran away with another man.
Once in the city, Klim is rejected by both the whites and the Chinese, and his only dubious ally is a difficult teenage dancer who decides to seduce him for sport. Klim knows that the “fallen gods” should keep a low profile, but he is obsessed with winning his life back and finding out what happened to Nina.
He writes a diary, which becomes a whimsical China travel guide to the world of weapon smugglers, opium traders, corrupt police, and communist agents doing everything possible to ignite a civil war in China.
But when Klim discovers Nina’s dark secret, he begins to doubt if he can handle it. And to make things worse, the Chinese nationalists gather an army and launch an attack on defenseless Shanghai.