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Shanghai Girls: A Novel [Kindle Edition]

Lisa See
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (851 customer reviews)

Print List Price: $16.00
Kindle Price: $8.99
You Save: $7.01 (44%)
Sold by: Random House LLC

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Book Description

BONUS: This edition contains a Shanghai Girls discussion guide and an excerpt from Lisa See's Dreams of Joy.

In 1937 Shanghai—the Paris of Asia—twenty-one-year-old Pearl Chin and her younger sister, May, are having the time of their lives. Both are beautiful, modern, and carefree—until the day their father tells them that he has gambled away their wealth. To repay his debts, he must sell the girls as wives to suitors who have traveled from Los Angeles to find Chinese brides. As Japanese bombs fall on their beloved city, Pearl and May set out on the journey of a lifetime, from the Chinese countryside to the shores of America. Though inseparable best friends, the sisters also harbor petty jealousies and rivalries. Along the way they make terrible sacrifices, face impossible choices, and confront a devastating, life-changing secret, but through it all the two heroines of this astounding new novel hold fast to who they are—Shanghai girls.

Editorial Reviews Review

Book Description
For readers of the phenomenal bestsellers Snow Flower and the Secret Fan and Peony in Love--a stunning new novel from Lisa See about two sisters who leave Shanghai to find new lives in 1930s Los Angeles.

May and Pearl, two sisters living in Shanghai in the mid-1930s, are beautiful, sophisticated, and well-educated, but their family is on the verge of bankruptcy. Hoping to improve their social standing, May and Pearl’s parents arrange for their daughters to marry “Gold Mountain men” who have come from Los Angeles to find brides.

But when the sisters leave China and arrive at Angel’s Island (the Ellis Island of the West)--where they are detained, interrogated, and humiliated for months--they feel the harsh reality of leaving home. And when May discovers she’s pregnant the situation becomes even more desperate. The sisters make a pact that no one can ever know.

A novel about two sisters, two cultures, and the struggle to find a new life in America while bound to the old, Shanghai Girls is a fresh, fascinating adventure from beloved and bestselling author Lisa See.

Amazon Exclusive: Lisa See on Shanghai Girls

I’m writing this on a plane to Shanghai. For the last couple of weeks I’ve been thinking about all the things I want to see and do on this research trip: look deeper into the Art Deco movement in Shanghai, visit a 17th-century house in a village of 300 people to observe the Sweeping the Graves Festival, and check out some old theaters in Beijing. But as I sit on the plane, I’m not thinking of the adventures that are ahead but of the people and places I’ve left behind. I’ve been gone from home only a few hours and already I’m homesick!

This puts me in mind of Pearl and May, the characters in Shanghai Girls. This feeling--longing for home and missing the people left behind--is at the heart of the novel. We live in a nation of immigrants. We all have someone in our families who was brave enough, scared enough, or crazy enough to leave the home country to come to America. I’m a real mutt in terms of ancestry, but I know that the Chinese side of my family left China because they were fleeing war, famine, and poverty. They were lured to America in hopes of a better life, but leaving China also meant saying goodbye to the homes they’d been born in, to their parents, brothers, and sisters, and to everything and everyone they knew. This experience is the blood and tears of American experience.

Pearl and May are lucky, because they come to America together. They’re sisters and they have each other. I’ve always wanted to write about sisters and I finally got my chance with Shanghai Girls. You could say that either I’m an only child or that I’m one of four sisters, because I have a former step-sister I’ve known for over 50 years and two half-sisters from different halves who I’ve known since they were born. Is Shanghai Girls autobiographical? Not really, but my sister Katharine and I once had a fight that was like the flour fight that May and Pearl got into when they were girls. And there was an ice cream incident that I used in the novel that sent my sister Clara right down memory lane when she read the manuscript. I’m also the eldest, and we all know what that means. I’m the one who’s supposed to be the bossy know-it-all. (But if that’s true, then why are they the ones who are always right?) What I know is that we’re very different from each other and our life experiences couldn’t be more varied, and yet we have a deep emotional connection that goes way beyond friendship. My sisters knew me when I was a shy little kid, helped me survive my first broken heart, share the memories of bad family car trips, and were at my side for the happiest moments in my life. More recently, we’ve begun to share things like the loss of our childhood homes, the changing of the neighborhoods we grew up in, and the frailties and illnesses of our myriad parents.

My emotions and experiences are deeply entwined with the stories I write. So as I fly over the Pacific, of course I’m thinking about May and Pearl, the people and places they left behind, the hopes and dreams that kept them moving forward, and the strength and solace they found in each other, but I’m thinking about myself too. As soon as I get to the hotel, I’m going to call my husband and sons to tell them I arrived safely, and then I’m going to send some e-mails to my sisters.--Lisa See

(Photo © Patricia Williams)

From Publishers Weekly

See (Peony in Love) explores tradition, the ravages of war and the importance of family in her excellent latest. Pearl and her younger sister, May, enjoy an upper-crust life in 1930s Shanghai, until their father reveals that his gambling habit has decimated the family's finances and to make good on his debts, he has sold both girls to a wealthy Chinese-American as wives for his sons. Pearl and May have no intention of leaving home, but after Japanese bombs and soldiers ravage their city and both their parents disappear, the sisters head for California, where their husbands-to-be live and where it soon becomes apparent that one of them is hiding a secret that will alter each of their fates. As they adjust to marriage with strangers and the challenges of living in a foreign land, Pearl and May learn that long-established customs can provide comfort in unbearable times. See's skillful plotting and richly drawn characters immediately draw in the reader, covering 20 years of love, loss, heartbreak and joy while delivering a sobering history lesson. While the ending is ambiguous, this is an accomplished and absorbing novel. (June)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Product Details

  • File Size: 1621 KB
  • Print Length: 418 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0812981502
  • Publisher: Random House (May 14, 2009)
  • Sold by: Random House LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B001NLL82Y
  • Text-to-Speech: Not enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #24,876 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
446 of 464 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
I'm a fan of Lisa See's two earlier novels, "Snow Flower and the Secret Fan" and "Peony in Love", both of which were set in 19th and 17th century China respectively. In "Shanghai Girls", the author moves the setting of the novel to Shanghai and later to the US. Lisa See paints a vivid portrait of life in pre-World War II Shanghai and takes the reader on an unforgettable journey through the Japanese invasion of China and its aftermath.

The protagonists in this novel are two sisters - Pearl and May. Pearl is the older sister, born in the auspicious Year of the Dragon, yet frowned upon by her Baba [father] who dislikes her tall appearance. Pearl is also educated, having completed college, and is proficient in a few languages and dialects. In contrast, younger sister May, born in the Year of the Sheep, is shorter yet lovely, and has only managed to complete high school. Yet, for all Pearl's accomplishments, it is May that is the apple of her parent's eyes, and uses this partiality to her advantage. Both sisters live a life of privilege, yet they work as 'beautiful girls' posing for pictures used in ads and posters and earn a good living. This may appear surprising given their parent's conservative outlook [the girls' mother has bound feet], yet not altogether strange as later events bring to light the family's dire financial straits.

When the girls are told their father has huge debts and has decided to marry them off to a pair of brothers, Gold Mountain Men residing in LA [men who have left China to go to America to seek their fortunes, returning to find China Brides], they realize their days of freedom are over and decide to revolt. Unfortunately, the Japanese invasion of Shanghai puts an end to any of their plans.
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109 of 119 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Why, why, WHY?! July 31, 2009
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
I do not understand why gifted authors occasionally butcher what would otherwise be fantastic novels. Lisa See's "Shanghai Girls" starts off a bit slower than "Snow Flower and the Secret Fan," but I quickly became wrapped up in the tale of two sisters, May and Pearl, who work as beautiful girls (a.k.a. calendar models) in Shanghai, China, until their father goes bankrupt and decides to sell his daughters into arranged marriages with American husbands. Tragedy quickly befalls the girls, who flee war-stricken China and embark on a dangerous journey to America, where they struggle to build new lives for themselves and keep a dark secret buried from the people closest to them.

This is a wonderful book filled with dynamic history and rich characters. I was completely smitten with the novel and especially appreciated the way the author portrayed the iron-strong sisterly bond between Pearl and May. However, the book has no ending! I was all excited and worried about what was happening at the end of the book, and I turned the page eager to find out what would happen next, and I was stunned to be face to face with the author's acknowledgements! What a huge disappointment. I would have given this book five stars if not for that horrible lack of an ending. Lisa See better be busy writing a sequel to this book, or else I will remain seriously pissed off for a long time.
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145 of 160 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Emotional Rollercoaster April 4, 2009
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
I was tired when I finished the book. It was one of those where I had to stay up one night to finish it because when I tried to put it down, the story kept turning over in my head. I had an honest like and dislike for some of the characters. I do have to admit that part of me kept wondering what else could go wrong as the story progressed.

The most striking thing about this book was that it is the first time that I, as an African-American, could feel the effects of discrimination against another people. The author is able to really make you feel what the characters feel. Additional kudos goes to the author for illustrating how dangerous it is to see things from only one point of view. Ever story has at least two sides.

Aside from wondering how much more hardship could possibly befall the family, I found the book to be an excellent read. I highly recommend it for anyone who wants a challenging read.
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202 of 234 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not bad; not great May 5, 2009
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
I felt I had a duty to finish this advance copy in order to write an honest review about the novel. I can't say that it was pulling teeth to finish it. But I can't say that I would have finished it if I had simply checked it out of the library and had no obligation to review it on Amazon.

The writing is meh. You'll find that the author's major lacking is in the use of descriptors and imagery. While there was plenty of opportunity--from the Chinese cooking, to the sights of Shanghai, to the horrors of war and the trauma of rape, to the physical beauty of the women subjects--the author's descriptions could have been far more vivid and compelling than they actually were. The plot was not bad, but it was somewhat predictable. The flow of the story actually picked up a great deal towards the last 1/2 of the book, and towards the end, I was reading at a rapid clip b/c of the suspense. Unfortunately, the book ends with a pretty major cliffhanger, so it's obvious that the author probably has a sequel in mind for these characters.

If you want a better read on life in China during the pre-war period, I highly recommend Iris Chang's The Rape of Nanking which is compelling and heart-wrenching. If you want a great read on mother-daughter and sisterly relationships in the context of intergenerational and intercultural American-Chinese differences, I would greatly recommend just about anything by Amy Tan, whose characters and their relationships are so vividly narrated and rich, that I am often convinced that she is writing about my own Chinese mother and myself (a first generation Asian American woman).
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
Enjoyed this book
Published 2 days ago by Jeanann
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Great story and really showed the history behind it. Looking forward to followup story.
Published 3 days ago by Rena M Baker
5.0 out of 5 stars Great book. Well written
Great book. Well written. Informative. The characters are wonderful. After reading it, I felt that I definitely learned something about the 'coming to America' for the Chinese... Read more
Published 9 days ago by Michelle Paus
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Very good read about life for Chinese immigrants in mid-30's California.
Published 11 days ago by Julie Northrop
4.0 out of 5 stars Great story of two sisters that strive to make it!
I really enjoyed reading this book. So well written It gave me a lot of history that I knew little of that era. I'm grateful for living today and not in the early 19oo. Read more
Published 13 days ago by Indira Cruz
4.0 out of 5 stars The book Shanghai girls follows the story of two sisters ...
The book Shanghai girls follows the story of two sisters from upscale Shanghai during the Japanese evasion in War World II. Read more
Published 14 days ago by Barbara
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
great history lesson...... fantastic read
Published 14 days ago by cleanfreak
5.0 out of 5 stars a good read
A bit melancholy, which could have been predicted from the onset. I love her writing, however--one of my favorites. She really fully develops her characters,
Published 19 days ago by Mary Beigel
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Loved this book so much the minute I finished it I went and bought the sequel!
Published 19 days ago by CS
4.0 out of 5 stars Two sisters live lives of privilege in pre WWII China ...
Two sisters live lives of privilege in pre WWII China until they find that their family has nothing due to their father's gambling. Read more
Published 20 days ago by Iz
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Topic From this Discussion
The ending - good or bad?
I'm still trying to understand how Sam rationalized killing himself. I remember what the book said but through his suicide he was leaving Pearl to deal with the paper son thing by herself and that seems out of character for Sam who stoicly bears all burdens. Sam was probably the only character... Read More
Jan 9, 2010 by Locococo |  See all 16 posts
Anyone else guess the "twist" from the beginning?
Ditto--it was overly obvious who "Daddy" was. The only thing more obvious was the fact Ms. See is going for a sequel. Considering we were reading this from Pearl's point of view all I could think of was how dense the author must think her readers are.

I really didn't care for... Read More
Sep 7, 2010 by Working Mom |  See all 5 posts
note for Lisa See fans
The Chinese American experience is as varied and diverse as any other immigrant group and I found as I read Shanghai Girls thinking about these other cultures and how similar their experiences must be; which is why I find this book greater than it's parts. As and East Coast first generation but... Read More
May 13, 2009 by G. I. Rosoff |  See all 4 posts
Is there a book that should be read before
No, but you should definitely get the sequel "Dreams of Joy" if you don't want to be left with a very unsatisfying ending :)
Aug 29, 2012 by N. Giampa |  See all 2 posts
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