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"An educated woman is a worthless woman." Confucious

  • Jul 24, 2010
As the quote above suggests, this novel reflects the culture and traditions of Chinese immigrants. Not all of their beliefs are politically correct.

In 1937 Shanghai was the most famous city in China, a spectacular and sordid collection of three million people, a city with a reputation for decadence and the pursuit of pleasure, side by side with abject poverty. It was also a great international city, dotted with skyscrapers and art deco buildings, with large numbers of people from all over the world, including Russian refugees from communist persecution, and European Jews fleeing the Nazis. This all came to an abrupt end with the Japanese invasion of China.

This is the story of two sisters, wealthy and privileged by Chinese standards, who enjoy a privileged life in Shanghai until they are sold into marriage by their father, who has to pay large gambling debts. They suffer through the brutality of the Japanese invasion, and make a daring escape to the U.S, where they experience the mixed blessings of life in Los Angeles'Chinatown. There they become a reluctant part of an assembled family, each with their own secrets and long held resentments. Their destinies are tied to their personalities, their actions, and their limitations, even though they are caught up in events that are much larger than themselves.

Lisa See uses action and spare, tight prose to give the reader a realistic and immediate portrait of her character's lives. You get to know the two sisters quickly. I was hooked by the end of the first chapter, and I knew that I was in the hands of a great storyteller. The harrowing escape from Shanghai, the internment on Angel Island, and the continual worries during the ant communist scares of the 1950's revealed a part of the American immigrant experience that I had not encountered before. Although I had read about these events in the dispassionate prose of my history textbooks, this story brought the history home to my heart. It was so much more immediate and realistic, a much better way to learn history.

The author explains her sources in the afterward, both written and oral. Ms. See has given us a find adventure novel, band also a vivid portrait of the history of Chinese Americans during the mid 20th century. I recommend this novel to all those who appreciate good historical fiction. Note: there are some graphic descriptions of violence (including rape) in the book, which reflects historical fact.

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More Shanghai Girls: A Novel reviews
review by . October 28, 2010
Lisa morphs into an Oriental look!
  Shanghai, 1937. Another world, almost another century. The sights, the smells, the incredibly varied and intriguing cuisines and the lives of two beautiful Chinese girls intertwine and  flow along in this beautifully written novel like an exorable river. Lisa See can write and you’re there in a Shanghai which will never come again, when women still tottered about on bound feet, when the wealthy had many servants and the poor had nothing. Shanghai was a little country unto itself, …
Quick Tip by . September 28, 2010
I read Lisa See's Snow Flower and the Secret Fan and found Snow Flower and more absorbing read than Shanghai Girls. Reviewer KellyF is right on in saying this is historical fiction, much like Snow Flower except it takes place later at a time when many Chinese people immigrated to California. Shanghai Girls contains a couple of surprises and fascinating history of China and its people during the period covered.
review by . September 09, 2010
I was deeply affected by Lisa See's Shanghai Girls. The story is indeed, as Amy Tan puts it, "achingly beautiful."      For the most part, Shanghai girls is a fast-moving and riveting story. There are many intense moments, such as the pandemonium from an air raid on Shanghai where See paints a vividly macabre and gory picture of dismembered bodies and body parts in the aftermath of the bombing. My attention, however, did wane through some parts of the book. I found …
review by . June 21, 2009
Book Review: Shanghai Girls (Random House/ May 2009) by Lisa See    Building upon her interviews with past generations for On Gold Mountain, and further research, Lisa See has written an incredible new historical novel about two sisters.     Beginning in Shanghai China during the Japanese invasion (1937), two sisters, Pearl and May, narrowly escape their homeland, emigrating to the United States as the arranged-marriage wives of two Chinese men.    Continu …
review by . July 18, 2009
After reading Peony in Love, also by Lisa See, I picked this novel without stopping to read another line. Although this one is not, in my opinion, quite as good as the former, it provides a fascinating look at the Chinese immigration experience in America in the 1930's, and also the dynamics of Chinese and other Asian families of the time.       The main protagonist Pearl, and her sister May are not very likeable characters, and as a matter of fact, there's a dearth of likeable …
review by . June 22, 2009
Shanghai Girls is a moving story that left me touched and deeply affected. The story is indeed, as Amy Tan puts it, "achingly beautiful."    The story is set between 1937 and 1957. Pearl and May are sisters from an affluent family in Shanghai that belongs to the socially elite class. They are "beautiful girls" - or the high fashion models of their day - and living the good life. Their privileged and sheltered lives, however, come to an abrupt end as a slew of misfortunes and …
review by . May 28, 2009
Lisa See has created a vivid tale about the lives of two Chinese sisters who are the toast of the town in their native Shanghai...touted as "beautiful girls," they are anything but the traditional Chinese women their parents would have them to be; rebellious, partying until the wee hours of the morning, and flaunting their Western style of dress Pearl and May are living a Chinese dream. Until the day the facade of their lives comes crashing down around them; they discover that their father is not …
review by . May 18, 2009
The ending to a book can really ruin the story for me. I need things wrapped in a pretty little bow. This book had no bow. 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. Too much of a cliffhanger and not enough closure. I think it was a bad choice (having said that, I will be reading the sequel for sure so I guess the author had her reasons, eh?)    The book is …
review by . April 04, 2009
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 …
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Book Description
For readers of the phenomenal bestsellersSnow Flower and the Secret FanandPeony 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.

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ISBN-10: 0812980530
ISBN-13: 978-0812980530
Author: Lisa See
Publisher: Random House Trade Paperbacks

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