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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.
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)
Fascinating story of culture in Shanghai and Los Angeles.
I realize the author left it open because there will obviously be a sequel to this book, but it feels like she met some pre-determined word count and just ended it.
I have read a previous Lisa See book, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan and enjoyed that one as well.
Lisa See is an excellent writer. Of all her books, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan is the very best and it will be difficult for her to surpass it, however, Shanghai Girls won't... Read morePublished 20 hours ago by Krae
I thought the book was alright, it wasn't the best. I liked the beginning where everything started to break apart and the drama came into play, but I'm glad that the girls were... Read morePublished 10 days ago by Pader Yang
A very well written book. I would give it five stars but it was a little depressing for my taste.Published 10 days ago by Krisana Carvajal
A rare book that engages the reader right from the start and where you just pray that something good will happen to the characters you have come to know and love. Read morePublished 14 days ago by Nana in MB
Enjoyed every page of this book. Learned a lot about the Chinese/American relationship during the war and after.Published 15 days ago by Shirley Sarni
This story delivers on so many levels: It is a deep and illuminating exposure of the natures of parent-child and sibling relationships. It is a coming-of-age and a romance story. Read morePublished 17 days ago by ShereeB
I have read some of Lisa See books, she gives such a wonderful insight to the Chinese world. Loved it, on the second book now to this.Published 18 days ago by Char