06 June 2009

14. Shanghai Girls

I am grateful to Random House Publishing for providing me with the opportunity to read and review author Lisa See’s latest novel Shanghai Girls. I loved her earlier novels and this one was equally enjoyable. In addition to the beautiful story of family and love, the novel explores an area of World War II history with which I am somewhat unfamiliar. Reading the novel has compelled me to do a bit of my own research on the Chinese experience during the early twentieth century.

Shanghai Girls follows two Chinese sisters, Pearl and May, as they are forced to leave their family in Shanghai and travel through war-torn China to America to live with their husbands, brothers whose father bought and paid for the two girls. Unfortunately their journey to America is not easy and their lives are changed on the trip. Still, the two young women are together and gain strength from their relationship; the strength to continue.

Pearl, the older sister, is the narrator and we learn of the hardships the girls face through her voice. We watch as May becomes more acclimated and as Pearl learns to love her husband. Still, the Chinese are treated as less than full citizens in their new country. After WWII, the situation becomes even more intolerable and secrets which have kept the family together threaten to tear it apart. Through Pearl, the reader comes to know and love the extended family and grieves with the girls as first one and then others die. It is interesting to see the role of women in the Chinese culture, both in China and the United States – especially the changing roles.

Although Lisa See’s earlier book On Gold Mountain is autobiographical, describing her family over the past 100 years, the website On Gold Mountain (produced in association with the Smithsonian Program for Asian Pacific American Studies) shows artifacts and photos that substantiate the places described in great detail by See in Shanghai Girls.

TITLE: Shanghai Girls
AUTHOR: Lisa See
PAGES: 309
TYPE: historical fiction, Chinese culture
RECOMMEND: I loved this book - perhaps more than Snow Flower and the Secret Fan.

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