Title: Shanghai Girls
Author: Lisa See
Release Date: May 26, 2009
Publisher: Random House
Genre: Historical Fiction , Multicultural Fiction
Rating: 4 out of 5
From the publisher’s website:
In 1937, Shanghai is the Paris of Asia, a city of great wealth and glamour, the home of millionaires and beggars, gangsters and gamblers, patriots and revolutionaries, artists and warlords. Thanks to the financial security and material comforts provided by their father’s prosperous rickshaw business, twenty-one-year-old Pearl Chin and her younger sister, May, are having the time of their lives. Though both sisters wave off authority and tradition, they couldn’t be more different: Pearl is a Dragon sign, strong and stubborn, while May is a true Sheep, adorable and placid. Both are beautiful, modern, and carefree . . . until the day their father tells them that he has gambled away their wealth and that in order to repay his debts he must sell the girls as wives to suitors who have traveled from California to find Chinese brides.
As Japanese bombs fall on their beloved city, Pearl and May set out on the journey of a lifetime, one that will take them through the Chinese countryside, in and out of the clutch of brutal soldiers, and across the Pacific to the shores of America. In Los Angeles they begin a fresh chapter, trying to find love with the strangers they have married, brushing against the seduction of Hollywood, and striving to embrace American life even as they fight against discrimination, brave Communist witch hunts, and find themselves hemmed in by Chinatown’s old ways and rules.
I’m a big fan of Lisa See, though I’ve only ever read Peony in Love. I’ve heard such great things about Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, but simply haven’t gotten around to reading it yet, though it has been sitting on my shelf for some time. When I first heard about Shanghai Girls, I knew I wanted to read it, though I was hesitant – it was a departure from her other books, set in the United States during the World War II era. I wasn’t sure if it would live up to her other novels. Happily, Shanghai Girls is a well-written and engaging novel that I thought was a great read.
Lisa See’s writing is as smooth as ever in Shanghai Girls. She writes about the most horrible events with an even-handed tone, making the burden a little easier to bear. I’m glad that she didn’t shy away from making the novel as real as possible. While it was sometimes hard to read, I feel like I learned a lot.
I really enjoyed the portrayal of sisters in Shanghai Girls. Pearl and May have a solid bond, though it is tested over and over again throughout the course of the novel. Sometimes their relationship can be petty, but underneath it all, they are sisters. They love and protect one another. Often, they misunderstand each other but their connection never wavers.
There are definitely some horrors depicted in Shanghai Girls, things that are difficult to read about. The Japanese invasion of China is brutal, and what Pearl and May are forced to endure is disgusting and tragic. When they finally arrive in America, they experience unhappiness of a different kind – they come face to face with the racism and prejudice inherent in the society of that era. It’s hard to read, but very eye-opening.
Shanghai Girls is another great novel from Lisa See. I really admire the sheer amount of research she puts into her novels, creating a vivid environment full of rich historical details. I can’t wait to see what she comes up with next!
Thank you to the publisher for sending me this book to review!