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Shanghai Girls: A Novel Hardcover – May 26, 2009


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Random House; First Edition edition (May 26, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400067111
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400067114
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.1 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (776 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #402,675 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com 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.

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Customer Reviews

Fascinating story of culture in Shanghai and Los Angeles.
Well-read
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.
CandysRaves (and Rants)
I have read a previous Lisa See book, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan and enjoyed that one as well.
Amazon Customer

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

441 of 459 people found the following review helpful By Z Hayes HALL OF FAMETOP 50 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on March 26, 2009
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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140 of 153 people found the following review helpful By NuJoi VINE VOICE on 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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106 of 116 people found the following review helpful By Melissa Niksic VINE VOICE on 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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199 of 231 people found the following review helpful By LawyerMom on 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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