Book Review : Shanghai Girls by Lisa See

Shanghai Girls: A Novel (Paperback)
~ Lisa See

Product Details
  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Random House Trade Paperbacks; Reprint edition (February 2, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0812980530
  • ISBN-13: 978-0812980530

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.

Pearl and May are two young, beautiful girls living in the modernized Shanghai. Everything seems to be perfect until their father tells them that he is broke and has to sell both her daughters to Gold Mountain Men (Chinese men living overseas who comes back in search for Chinese brides). They are arranged to embark for San Francisco, but Pearl throws away their tickets, insisting that she does not want to live her life with a man she does not love.

The bond between Pearl and May is special and strong. As the elder sister, Pearl has a feeling that she has the responsibility to look after May, and always does her best to keep her safe. During the Japanese invasion, Pearl and her mother suffered the humiliation of being raped repeatedly by Japanese soldiers. Pearl sacrificed herself to protect her sister from being ravished by the cruel men because she knew that the soldiers are bound to search the place and finally find them (she and May), who were not concealed safely under the wooden planks.

During their confinement at Angel Island, the 18-year-old May gives birth to a child in result of a premarital relationship with a man. For fear of being rejected by her in-laws, May pleads her sister to accept the child, named Joy, as her own. At first, Pearl intends to run away, but after many years living with the Louies, she begins to have a feeling of home and family, although Chinese are constantly discriminated by the Americans.

The characters of this story are very well drawn, especially Old Man Louie's stinginess and fatherly concerns and Pearl's determination, stubbornness, fears and weaknesses. Pearl's character can be summarized by this sentence:

"We’re told that men are strong and brave, but I think women know how to endure, accept defeat, and bear physical and mental agony much better than men."

The story has an excellent plot, which implores me to keep on reading. I really take my hat off to the truth and lies that Lisa creatively inserted into the story. They never fail to make me surprised and shocked at the same time. I have always loved Lisa's way of writing : There is a smooth flow and strong transitions, which makes me to understand and follow the story easily. Even though I love the story, I have a feeling that Shanghai Girls ended too abruptly. I didn't expect it to end so soon and was earnest to read the next chapter, but when I turn the page - there's the acknowledgments page.

Shanghai Girls explores the loving yet conflicted relationship between sisters --- how they support each other during bad times, share the happiness during good times and blame each other when something bad happens. Towards the end of the novel, each of them finally confronts each other, pouring out all their anger and hurt which they have kept in their hearts for so long.

Your sister is the one person who should stick by you and love you no matter what, but she’s also the one person who knows exactly where to drive the knife to hurt you the most.

As the adage goes, blood is thicker than water, Pearl and May eventually becomes supportive of each other again when there is a problem. Their sisterly-bond can never be destroyed. Lisa See brings us on a provocative journey along with Pearl and May, from Shanghai to Angel Island and finally to America. She has once again exhibited her gift and talent in writing through this amazing and gripping novel, Shanghai Girls.

Rating: 5

Pros: Excellent writing style, well drawn characters, amazing plot.
Cons: The story ends too soon. I want more!

I'd like to say THANK YOU to Lisa See for sending me a signed paperback copy of Shanghai Girls for this review!

Lisa See, author of the critically-acclaimed international bestseller, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan (2005), has always been intrigued by stories that have been lost, forgotten, or deliberately covered up, whether in the past or happening right now in the world today. Ms See is probably best known for Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, for which she traveled to a remote area of China—where she was told she was only the second foreigner ever to visit—to research the secret writing invented, used, and kept a secret by women for over a thousand years. ~ Visit Lisa See's Website HERE

Purchase Shanghai Girls in Paperback:
Amzon $10.47
Barnes and Noble $10.80
The Book Depository $21.83

The Book Depository $7.11

These are examples of calenders with "beautiful girls" as models.

3 creative remarks:

vvb32 reads said...

beautiful story and cover and calendar pics. on my tbr list ;-D

Aik said...

I'm sure you'll love this book! :)

BookQuoter said...

Thanks for visiting me. I will read this book and if it goes on my list, I will redirect to your review. I did like her snow flower book, so I will probably like this too!!! Hope so!!