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Shanghai Girls: A Novel Paperback – February 2, 2010
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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)--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
From Publishers Weekly
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
Top Customer Reviews
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.Read more ›
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.
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.
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).Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Interesting study of sisters/siblings and of course with Chinese customs as a background added interest. Good read.Published 5 days ago by Harold Darmantrudy Kennedy
If you like historical fiction, you'll love this. I don't know much about the Chinese experience in the United States, and it tells a lot. Provocative. Read morePublished 12 days ago by Diane Jones
I borrowed this book from the library after seeing it was the 2016 Everyone's Reading pick for the Detroit Public Libraries. Read morePublished 19 days ago by Nancy A.
Omg don't waste your time! The ending is so annoying!!! Though it has a great beggining the end drags and I feel like I was constantly wanting more but I never got it! Read morePublished 22 days ago by Amber Frampton
This is my first book by Lisa See. Not being well versed in the history of China I found the information about the changes with communist take over interesting.Published 1 month ago by Amazon Customer