|Shanghai Girls: A Novel
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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)
In 1937, Shanghai is the Paris of Asia, a city of great wealth and glamour, the home of millionaires and beggars, gangsters and gamblers, patriots and revolutionaries, artists and warlords. Thanks to the financial security and material comforts provided by their father’s prosperous rickshaw business, twenty-one-year-old Pearl Chin and her younger sister, May, are having the time of their lives. Though both sisters wave off authority and tradition, they couldn’t be more different: Pearl is a Dragon sign, strong and stubborn, while May is a true Sheep, adorable and placid. Both are beautiful, modern, and carefree . . . until the day their father tells them that he has gambled away their wealth and that in order to repay his debts he must sell the girls as wives to suitors who have traveled from California to find Chinese brides.
As Japanese bombs fall on their beloved city, Pearl and May set out on the journey of a lifetime, one that will take them through the Chinese countryside, in and out of the clutch of brutal soldiers, and across the Pacific to the shores of America. In Los Angeles they begin a fresh chapter, trying to find love with the strangers they have married, brushing against the seduction of Hollywood, and striving to embrace American life even as they fight against discrimination, brave Communist witch hunts, and find themselves hemmed in by Chinatown’s old ways and rules.
At its heart, Shanghai Girls is a story of sisters: Pearl and May are inseparable best friends who share hopes, dreams, and a deep connection, but like sisters everywhere they also harbor petty jealousies and rivalries. They love each other, but each knows exactly where to drive the knife to hurt the other the most. Along the way they face terrible sacrifices, make impossible choices, and confront a devastating, life-changing secret, but through it all the two heroines of this astounding new novel hold fast to who they are–Shanghai girls.
From the Hardcover edition.
- Luxury, Privilege, Courage, Struggle, Survival, Success plus much much more
Lisa See writes a highly engaging and absorbing novel which has great depth and richness making this a "difficult to put the book down" once it is started. The book reads more like a biography about the lives of two sisters who are very different from each other but who remain close and best friends throughout their lives. They engage in a great struggle to survive after falling from the highly privileged lives they once led. At the end, I learned the author did a great deal of research and interviewed many Chinese people some of whose stories she incorporated into her fictional plot. Pearl and her younger sister May lived luxurious lives in prewar Shanghai. They had quite a lot more freedom than most women of the times because they served as models for a popular calendar and earned an income for their work. They were well educated and had learned to speak English which later served them well as various uncontrollable events in their young lives produced difficulties which they had to overcome. Unknown to the family until it was too late, their father had incurred gambling debts and the lives of the two sisters were changed forever as a result. The debts would only be forgiven if the two girls participated in arranged marriages. To their utter shock, due to their father's negligence the lives of the two sisters lives had been gambled away. Not long afterwards, the Japanese invaded Shanghai and the sisters and their mother ran to save their lives. The girls thought their mother was only a housewife without other skills but they soon learned of her strong instinct for survival as she sacrificed her honor to save her daughters lives ...
The author does an outstanding job of describing the immigration policies of the times as Pearl and May became entangled in a legal conundrum before they could enter the United States. A Chinese-American businessman had essentially bought both of them as wives for his sons. Through cunning and cleverness they managed to maneuver and outwit the system so they could live in the U.S. The lives of the two sisters gradually improved as they settled into a very different routine than what they had known in Shanghai. Their father-in-law was a businessman in Chinatown in Los Angeles, where he ran a souvenir shop. Pearl and May adapted to new lives, new values and a different culture. They had survived horrible circumstances to at last arrive at the point of building new and successful lives in the new world. The author provides a totally unexpected twist in the plot related to one of their offspring who makes the decision to return to Communist China to discover some truths about life for herself. Their story is told through the eyes, thoughts and feelings of the eldest sister May, as she recounts her life when she had lived in Shanghai and compares it with the new one she adopted in the United States. The Chinese value system and beliefs she was taught early in her life stood the test of time. They helped her to remain strong through many of life's struggles while she built a good life for herself and her family. This is a most excellent and highly recommended book. Erika Borsos [pepper flower]...more info
- Unflinching portrayal of the Chinese-American experience
Written in a casual manner, Lisa See's third novel lacks the formality of the written word that one might expect from a book about China that explores themes of fate, the bond between sisters and family, and the overcoming of personal tragedy. The author shines most when exploring relationships. See has an eye for dissecting the many layers that exist between siblings - the jealousy, the adoration, the love. The ups and downs of the sisters' relationship mirrors the ups and downs of life. Encased in Shanghai Girls is an epic tale that spans twenty years that realistically portrays the Chinese-American experience: from the discomfort of loosing one's roots to discrimination to the joys of finally finding a home, every emotion and aspect of life is considered. At its core, the novel is a microcosm not only of the immigration experience, but also of every person's search for identity. Well researched and heavily detailed as it is, the narrative is at times bogged down by linguistic and historical interjections meant to enlighten the reader but become increasingly distracting. Images of Chinatown are repeated, as if the author herself was running out of ideas in which to describe the sights and smells of the area. A compelling story nevertheless emerges, culminating in a relevant examination of what it means to be an American, particularly applicable for the 21st Century, when globalization is at its height and we may no longer know what that term means. ...more info
- Another treasure from See
Lisa See is a writer who never fails to deliver a powerful and memorable book. Her characterization of the sisters and how they change as their situations humble them is a lesson in writing. This novel is an excellent choice for a book discussion selection....more info
- Slow starter but compelling in the end
This is a historical novel about two sisters, Pearl and May Chin, who were born in China and move to the U.S. after their lives fall apart. I wasn't sure what to make of this book at first because I was having a hard time getting into it. Initially, the characters were not that interesting and seemed a bit two dimensional. Pearl is the dutiful older sister who is smart but fails to meet her father's approval because she is tall with ruddy cheeks - like a peasant. May is the beautiful younger sister who is loved by all and quite spoiled. The two work as "Beautiful Girls" calendar models and spend most of their time shopping and partying until their lives are abruptly changed when their father can't pay his gambling debts and sells them off in an arranged marriage to old Man Louie's sons from San Francisco.
For me, the book really gets interesting after the characters settle into their new lives in America and adjust to being wives and daughter-in-laws to yet another controlling man. The author touches on the Chinese Exclusion Acts, internment camps and other prevailing views during the 30's that made life that much harder people of Asian descent in America. Many of the immigrants where there illegally as "paper" sons and they lived in fear of being discovered because this would mean that they would be deported back to China. China was under attack by the Japanese and then later overtaken by the Communists, so no one wanted to be sent back under those circumstances. People were turning against their relatives and neighbors in return for amnesty to keep from being deported, and in the most compelling part of this book, Pearl's own sister does this setting off a disastrous chain of events that threaten to destroy their relationship.
The mark of a good book is how long it stays with you after you've finished, and this book meets that test. The ending was explosive as Pearl and May let loose with all their long-held grievances and finally reveal the big secret of all regarding Pearl's daughter Joy, and it feels like the author was setting up a sequel.
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 at all wealthy and affluent....or at least, not anymore. He is actually indebted to another wealthy Chinese businessman...and the girls have been essentially "sold off"---via an arranged marriage to that man's sons--to satisfy those debts. Then the Japanese invade China....and Shanhai changes dramatically. And where Pearl and May were refusing to comply with their father's marital arrangements, they soon find themselves fleeing their homeland to the comparitively safe arms of their husbands.
An amazing tale of the emigration of two Chinese women from their homeland, destination America....and of the significant challenges that they face when they arrive. This book was a learning journey for me...of the feelings that the Chinese and Japanese have towards one another, the institution of the Chinese family, in addition to different terms relating to one's citizenship (paper son, paper daughters). A fantastic literary treat.
DYB ...more info
- Beautiful, well written novel
What a lovely novel this is. I couldn't put it down from the moment I started reading it. It is the story of two sisters, Pearl and May Chin, who are born and raised in Shanghai to wealthy parents. They believe themselves to be modern but their father runs into debt problems and agrees to marry them off to Chinese men from the United States. They fight the arranged marriages at first but then the Japanese invade China and the girls and their mother must go on the run. Terrible things happen to them while they are trying to escape China. Finally Pearl and May end up on a boat to California and when they arrive there, they are held at Angel Island Immigration Station for several months. When they are finally released, they are released to their father-in-law and their husbands. It is not at all the life they had envisioned. From there we follow Pearl and May's lives with their husbands and each other.
This novel clearly details the horrors placed on the Chinese by the Japanese pre WWII. It also details the life of immigrants on U.S. soil. It is a very moving and often times sad novel but a wonderful story nonetheless. I highly recommend this novel to everyone!...more info
- Heartbreaking tale of survival, sacrifice, and love
Pearl and May Chin are as close as sisters can possibly be. But, as with most sisters, they each harbor jealousies towards the other. They're socialites - they hang out in the best circles, are cover models, do what they please, and believe much of China to be totally backward thinking - even though they are very naive about life outside their sheltered little world. In a city whose inhabitants range from the lowest bum, to the most respected foreign businessman, they have no problem ignoring the problems around them, and quite literally stepping over the little people. All that changes in an instant though. They return home one night to find that their father has gambled away not only his fortune, but theirs as well. As part of his payment, the father must arrange the marriage of his "beautiful girl" daughters to the highest bidder. While the girls consent to meeting their prospective new husbands, and even go through with the marriage, they have no intention of returning with them to America. They see it purely as a business deal, and they have done their part. Little do they know that things are only going to get worse from here. Japan has declared war on China and Shanghai is no longer safe. They must leave toward Hong Kong where they believe that the British occupied territory will be safe. After a series of terrible events, they wind up making their way to America where they plan on meeting up with their husbands only long enough to squirrel away enough money to make their true escape. By the time they reach America, they have been through hell and back, made sacrifices for each other and hidden away dark secrets that no one must ever find out. No longer the carefree socialites they once were, they struggle to adapt to this strange new land where things aren't as easy as they once thought. Where segregation, discrimination and racial profiling are now a part of their daily life. They must learn to adapt to a new life that they never wanted and they must be careful not to let slip any of those dangerous secrets that they keep. Jealousy and resentment can fester easily in an environment such as this, but the sisters always hold tight to each other. A heartbreaking story of survival, true sacrifice, and the unbreakable bond that is possible between sisters. While the story is fiction, the author drew upon the experiences of real people when writing it. Taking place between 1937 and 1957, it feels as though you get a true glimpse into the Chinese immigrant experience in that era. Recommended reading....more info
- Simply Divine
It is 1937 and Pearl and May are two beautiful sisters who live a privileged life in Shanghai. They model for local artists and their faces are featured in local ads and on calendars. They are a bit na?ve, thinking their lives are going to go on like this forever. However, the world around them is changing. The Japanese are saber rattling, will be invading soon and their father has lost the family fortune gambling. For their parents to keep their home, they must sell the girls to the young Chinese American sons of Old Louie, an American Chinese who has extensive business dealings in Shanghai and who has always coveted the girls.
The girls have a dangerous trip to America, winding up at Angel Island in San Francisco, where the spend months held by immigration until they are finally allowed to travel to Los Angeles and their new husbands. The girls lives don't turn out a bit like they'd expected as they evolve into people they never expected to be.
This is a divinely written story and it almost makes me ashamed to admit that I've never read Lisa See before. However, I'll be seeking out Peony in Love and Snow Flower and the Secret Fan straightaway. I was held captive by this book and if her other works are anything like this, I have some wonderful reading to look forward to....more info
- Very Good, I Couldn't Put it Down
This is a story of two sisters, Pearl and May, who start out life in Shanghai. They are young and beautiful in 1937. They are models. They make money. They expect to marry for love one day. They have it all. Or so they think. However, unknown to them their father has gambled away the family money and to survive he has to sell his daughters to young American Chinese brothers who have come looking for brides. Actually, it's more like their father lost them to the young brother's father. Gambling, it's always been a disease.
The girls go through with the marriage ceremony, but they don't get on the boat. They believe their lives will go on as usual, but the Japanese invade and to escape a fate worse than marriage to the unknown Americans, the girls escape China, go to America and begin their lives as wives.
Their journey to Los Angeles, through San Francisco, is not an easy one and neither is their lives with their husbands. The life of an immigrant then was not an easy one and it'll put a strain on the relationship the sister's have, almost destroying it. Their life is nothing like they expected it to be. This book is not what I expected either. It's very good, a great story and sort of a history lesson as well. I couldn't put it down....more info
- Lisa See has done it again!
The first novel I read by Lisa See was Snow Flower and the Secret Fan. A 5-star book! Shanghai Girls is the second book I read by her. And it is almost as good as Snow Flower.
The story starts in pre-WWII China in Shanghai. 2 sisters are born into a relatively affluent family. One sister is the fairer one and the other is the smarter one. They both work as models for a painter to sell calendars. One day they learn that their father has basically gambled all of the family's money away and owes a majority to the Green Gang. The Green Gang comes to collect and threatens the family's security. In the meantime, the 2 sisters find out that their father has promised them as wives to a Chinese man's sons who live in the US.
The Japanese invade China and Shanghai, forcing the mother and 2 daughters to evacuate. The father disappears. The 3 women endure hardships on their way to find an escape route away from the Japanese. The mother dies at the hands of the Japanese and the older sister almost dies as well. The 2 sisters manage to make their way to Hong Kong and then toward escape to the US.
The sisters sit in Angel Island near San Francisco for many months waiting for clearance to join their "paper husbands". While at Angel Island, the fair sister gives birth to a daughter, but she gives it to her older sister to take care of as her own.
The reader then learns about the 2 sisters and how they try to acclimate to their new "paper family" and America and its culture.
The relationship between the 2 sisters is so strong that almost nothing seems to be able to separate them. However, Ms. See gives the reader some interesting surprises toward the end. I can normally figure out ahead of time where the author is going with the story or easily read between the lines, but I have to admit that I was surprised.
I would have given this book 5 stars, except that the ultimate ending was not what I expected - it left a lot hanging and I wanted more. Although I understand that the story was more about the 2 sisters than the rest of their family, I would have preferred knowing how everything was resolved.
Otherwise, I found it to be a capitavating and engaging story. I was able to really get to know the 2 sisters and was very involved in the story....more info
- Am I The Only One?
Am I the only one that thinks the two main characters in this novel, May and Pearl are spoiled brats? For those of you that are wondering, having seen all the wonderful reviews, I got an advance reader's copy from ebay. I am failing to see what is so great about Shanghai girls living pampered lives and stepping over dead babies on sidewalks without a thought or worry except making it to their next model session on time. Their father gambles everything away, including their precious existence. They are forced to marry American Chinese men and they barely escape the perils of war. Pearl, actually, does not escape, but allows herself to be raped to save her sister's virginity (which really does not exist). The entire novel is Pearl taking care of spoiled May, suffering for May, paying for her mistakes, being a servant while May does as she pleases. On page 302, an old and sad Pearl says that May looked out for herself and grabbed opportunities. So true about looking out for herself, but opportunities? Hm. More like stepping on other people's toes. Sorry all, but did not like this one....more info
- A story about sisters that is touching
This story follows two sisters who are on top of their litle world. Unfortunately for them, their plans are yanked away by their idiotic gambler of a father. War breaks out, and their original plans to escape the fate their father planned for them ends up becoming there only chance at survival. They come to America and marry, they raise a daughter, and eventually acclimate to their new lives. All cannot be well and old slights and resentments surface, but eventually they find that their love for each other mends most wounds. This is a touching story, that will tug at your heart....more info
- Enthralling story, well-researched, enlightening!
When reading a book, my preference has always been to be taken to a special place, to learn about the culture, to explore the identities of the characaters, and that is what I was exposed to in Shanghai Girls. I remember reading her memoir On Gold Mountain: The One-Hundred-Year Odyssey of My Chinese-American Family and was enthralled by the history. Lisa See is an accomplished writer, a bestseller, and someone I clearly need to explore further. Dialogue is realistic and moves well to carry the story. The characters are true to their storyline. The narrating voice is from Pearl who tells the story of herself and sister May.
Backing up the claims
Offering a novel about the past requires historic facts, data, dates, events, knowledge of customs, protocol, apparel, settings, moods, characters, etc., and that is where Lisa See pulls the reader further into the historic past. She provides an explanation on facts we, the readers, may not have understood. She backs up a statement that will give us that aha moment to clarify actions, behaviors, etc., etc.
Part of absorbing the reader into a novel is the use of chapter titles and these here are well done, being descriptive and enticing. When I am interested in the chapter title, I always like to try to find out why the title was chosen and/or how it is incorporated within the text.
Historically, the story dates back before 1930s; as Pearl and her younger sister May, became sold to marriage suitors as a result of their father's debt to the Green Gang. The girls' lifestyle was being raised with servants. But now, we follow them through their arrival in Hong Kong, then the rigorous process upon entry to Angel Island Immigration Station, with secrets, ordeals, hardship and courage. More of the plot involves their entry to the United States and a continuation of the dream to escape.
Read this to be taken away to a different time, different place, different people. I plan to read Snow Flower and the Secret Fan: A Novel and Peony in Love: A Novel. ....Rizzo ...more info
- Cultural delight
4 1/2 stars.
Fans of "Snow Flower and the Secret Fan" might begin the book with a hint of disappointment that this book is not set the same time period in China. In this new book we can't relish the surreal community of foot-binding, unusual talk, and with their almost delusional community values. For Shanghai girls, we begin with two more modern girls, set in the 1930s and forward. While everything is more modern, arranged marriages and other traditions still took control of a woman's life and community values still ranked characters in the novel by class. We still discover the unique flavors of the more modern Chinese traditions and values.
Joy and Pearl are living a frivolous upscale life in Shanghai. Their expectations of the future are quickly changed by a family tragedy and political upheaval. We follow their lives with unpredictable twists and turns and find the book has taken us somewhere unexpected. In the end, we see how life's disappointments can bring us new experiences that can be rewarding in their own way.
I recommend fans of Snow Flower (and any reader) to sit back and just enjoy learning where life takes these beautiful Chinese girls. It's an elegant tribute and historical glimpse of Chinese Americans around WWII and their unique challenges. And we learn a little about life, too.
Well written and satisfying.
- An epic tale of two sisters, more than one secret and an ending you have to read to believe
I wasn't very far into "Shanghai Girls" when I started to regret the years I had let Lisa See's "Snow Flower and the Secret Fan" loiter on my to-read stack. The wonderfully clear writing style and epic storyline of her third novel (not to mention the liberal praise for her previous books) made me want to go a Lisa See reading spree.
"Shanghai Girls" is set at a point of massive turmoil in Chinese history. Pearl and May are beautiful girls in 1930's Shanghai-literally. Their faces adorn many posters and calendars advertising new and modern products to the people of Shanghai. This job brings them into contact with the young, foreign, beautiful and revolutionary people in the city and a typical night out involves posing for hours then dancing at a nightclub and drinking champagne until dawn.
But everything changes in an instance when their father announces that the family finances aren't nearly as healthy as they seem-and he has sold them in marriage to "gold mountain men"-Chinese who live the good life in Los Angeles. But Pearl and May are spunky and even after the marriages, once their very young husbands have returned home, they plan on making their lives the way they want them to be.
But then comes war. With the Japanese invasion of Shanghai residents of the city are fleeing for their lives-and Pearl. May and their mother are no different. The events that happen to these three women on their way to safety with ripple through the rest of the girl's lives.
Much more happens, including a secret pregnancy and a pact made which helps both sisters-and locks them into a combat which will effect them the rest of their lives. We read on as Pearl and May live in LA through disappointment, joy, sorrow, war and immense changes in their homeland so very far away.
Told entirely by Pearl this is a first person epic tale of two sisters who have more than one secret-some which bind them together, others which threaten to tear them apart. It is an incredibly enjoyably book to read and I just raced through it.
And then the end came. I have seen a lot of bad endings in books and a lot of good ones too and I can't really say where this fits. I guess it's a personal thing. But I feel entirely confident in saying that that ending of this book will be a divisive issue among its readers. I can't say more without spoilers.
I found it hard to put a rating on this book because I liked the first 99/100 so much and then the end is so hard to classify. The one thing I can say for sure is that I would very much like to read Lisa See's other historical novels.
- Two Chinese sisters deal with war, prejudice and a secret that impacts their relationship with each other
I loved the book, "Snow Flower and the Secret Fan", and that's why I was delighted to have a chance to read a pre-publication copy of this author's latest book through the Amazon Vine program
Once I started reading it, I literally could not put the book down. I read it all in a couple of days and when I was not actually reading, I was thinking about it, living with the characters, and wondering what would happen next to these two Chinese sisters who we first meet in 1937 living their privileged lives. They are modern (no bound feet for them) and they live a rather high life in Shanghai, posing for Art Deco calendars, enjoying the nightlife, and wearing beautiful clothes.
Suddenly, though, everything changes. Their father loses his money and forces them into marriage to brothers who live in Los Angeles, California. They go through the ceremony and plan on never getting on the ship but all of a sudden, Shanghai is invaded by the Japanese. Horrific events follow and they and their mother encounter the brutality that happens in a war. Eventually though, they manage to make their way to America, their only escape. The horrors are not over yet though. First they have to get through Angel Island, the detention center for Chinese immigrants. They are detained there for four months and then later they live in slum conditions under the thumb of their tyrannically father in law. They also share a major secret which impacts their every action and haunts their life in America as they struggle with assimilation, prejudice and their relationship with each other.
Their lives mirror that of modern history as America enters the War in 1941, and then later, in the 1950s when the Communist witch hunts impact their lives. This book brings all this to the reader through a Chinese-American point of view. It is fascinating.
I LOVED this book and give it my highest recommendation.
- Emotional Rollercoaster
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.
- See's Best Yet
Two sisters Pearl and May were brought up in Shanghai in the 1930's -- they are well off and live a modern, carefree life. When their father gambles away all the family's money, however, the girls are suddenly forced into marriage to two Chinese boys from L.A. to pay off their father's debts. When the Japanese attack, the girls are forced to make their way alone to America and start a new life with their husbands.
Although this is a fascinating historical novel about Chinese immigrants in the mid-1900's, it's also a timeless tale of sisterhood -- the jealousy and the love. I just could not put this book down, it is definitely See's best yet....more info
- An enjoyable read
This is not a great book, but it is a good book and an interesting read. Two formerly wealthy sisters from Shanghai had to escape the Japanese invasion in the 1930's, fleeing to the US to the husbands they had been forced to marry but had hoped to ignore. They didn't totally avoid the Japanese and lost their mother on the way out of China.
In the US they had to deal with discrimination and poverty and hard work. Their new family was large and varied with lots of problems and illness. Immigration rulings were a large part of the situation with "paper sons" making up a large part of the group.
The ending seemed abrupt and left questions but overall the book is a fast read and informative about Chinese experiences in the 1930-1950 time period, in China and in the US. ...more info
- Strength and Beauty in the Beautiful Girls
I loved Snow Flower and the Secret Fan and was not so thrilled about Peony in Love so I was curious if I would like this Lisa See book.
The writing is exquisite and the story captivating. It was difficult to take a break from reading this novel.
The Chin family live in Shanghai and the story begins in 1937. There is the loved daughter, May, and the too tall and skinny daughter, Pearl and both work at night posing for advertisement painters. The family is fairly well off until in one day their father, Baba, informs them they will both marry tomorrow and further all their money is gambled away.
When the Japanese bombs fall on their city they are forced to leave and it is then they begin to realize their strength and determination to survive.
Lisa See writes with depth and beauty, she does an excellent job of fleshing out the characters and describing the settings in an in depth and fascinating way. There are a few very graphic events of rape and carnage but I believe they are essential to the story.
I did feel that the story began to drag a bit at the end and begin to be a bit of political piece, which was not as exciting as the rest of the story. And then the story picked up and the loose ends were all wrapped up. All in all I really enjoyed reading this Lisa See novel.
If you are a fan of Lisa See you will love yet another of her novels; if you have never read any of Lisa See, this would be a great place to start!...more info
- Wonderful historical novel
This novel brings history to life. One learns so much about the Chinese culture in Shanghai and the difficulty in transitioning to the American life in Los Angeles after fleeing from the Japanese invasion in 1937. This is an eye-opening book in regards to prejudices and hardships (particularly the American interrogations and Confession Programs). I found this an insightful tale both culturally and relationally.
I probably would have given this five stars but it seemed to bog down about two thirds of the way through. It is definitely worth the time to read this well written novel....more info
- "When you lose your home country, what do you preserve and what do you abandon?"
Shanghai China in 1937 is known as the "Paris of the East." It is a thoroughly modern, international city, with a large foreign community. There is also a heavily populated Little Tokyo section, where Japanese residents promote "Friendship, Cooperation and Co-prosperity between China and Japan."
Sisters Pearl and May, (generational name Long - which means Dragon), are the novel's protagonists. Pearl, the older sister is the narrator. She is quite lovely, very tall and willowy with rosy cheeks. These attributes, however, prevent her from being considered a classic Chinese beauty. Petite May, with her porcelain complexion and fine features, is thought to be perfection itself. Pearl is not jealous of her sister at all. She says, "How can I be jealous of my sister when I adore her." And the two are truly best friends who go everywhere together.
Both young women are very sophisticated and model for "beautiful-girl artists." Their pictures usually grace calendars, but they are also used to advertise a series of products from cigarettes to pills for improving the complexion. The two consider themselves to be "'kaoteng Huajen,' superior Chinese, who follow the religion of 'ch'ung yang,' the worship of all things foreign." Both sisters have been educated by American and British teachers, and Pearl, who is an excellent student, is fluent in four languages. May is more flighty, charmingly spoiled, and has little interest in studies. They have defied their father, "Baba," who believes in the Confucian religion which says, "An educated woman is a worthless woman." And they both plan to marry for love.
Unfortunately, "Baba" Long, who is an affluent businessman, has a gambling habit and owes a fortune to the criminal Green Gang headed by Pockmarked Huang. The crime boss is so powerful that his reach extends throughout China and beyond. So Baba makes an arrangement with Huang to remunerate him. His daughters are to be sold into an arranged marriage and the money used to pay off the gambling debt. The Long family has lost everything and is threatened with death if the agreement is not honored.
The grooms are "Golden Mountain men," who have traveled with their father, Old Man Louie, to find brides in China. Pearl and May are married within twenty-four hours after learning of their father's "troubles." Old Man Louie lives in Los Angeles, where he owns various factories. His older son, Sam Louie, is about Pearl's age and although not educated, he has a pleasant demeanor. However, Vern is only fourteen and May is horrified to be forced into a relationship with a boy. Non-quota immigration visas are obtained for the sisters at the American Consulate. Pearl and May are to take a boat to Hong Kong to meet their new husbands and father-in-law, who have traveled ahead of them. From there they will all take a ship to Los Angeles.
A few weeks later, in July 1937, the Sino-Japanese War breaks out. During the first months of the war, the city of Shanghai is brought under the control of the Japanese army. The Japanese wage a fierce three-month battle and Chinese and Japanese troops fight in downtown Shanghai and in the outlying towns. The sisters, caught up in the horrific bombings, flee the city with their mother, looking for a way to Hong Kong. Along the way, Japanese soldiers repeatedly rape both Pearl and her mother, while May remains in hiding. The mother dies and the sisters barely escape with their lives.
They manage, after much hardship, to obtain steerage passage to Los Angeles. The sisters suffer for months as internees at the Angel Island Immigration Station, the Ellis Island of the West, where they are harshly interrogated. Eventually they are reunited with their husbands and their new family, and learn, with great difficultly, to adjust to life in Los Angeles' Chinatown.
Lisa See explores the strong relationship between the sisters, and the importance of family in the Chinese American culture. The Chinese encounter tremendous prejudice from the moment they enter the United States, through WWII and during the Korean War, when the North Koreans are assisted by the Communist Chinese government. The McCarthy era proves to be even worse, as patriotic Chinese-Americans are persecuted for being spies for Mao and The Peoples Republic of China. The Louie family persist, however, and try to obtain as much of the American dream for themselves and their children as possible.
This is a wonderfully rich historical novel. The in-depth character development is extraordinary. Ms. See's writing style is tight, fluid, and very descriptive. The author is a Chinese-American, (1/8 Chinese), and grew up in Los Angeles, spending much of her time in Chinatown. She has also traveled throughout China, to the modern cities and the most remote regions of the country. Lisa See has become one of my favorite authors. She has the unique ability to tell a tale while educating the reader. I have read everything she has written. I am so lucky to have obtained the ARC for "Shanghai Girls. Highly recommended!
Peony in Love: A Novel
Snow Flower and the Secret Fan: A Novel
Flower Net: A Red Princess Mystery (Red Princess Mysteries)
On Gold Mountain: The One-Hundred-Year Odyssey of My Chinese-American Family...more info
- A bit of a departure from earlier novels, but no less compelling
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. Fleeing the Japanese is not without its horrors and ultimately Pearl and May find themselves alone except for one another.
Even after leaving China, the pair find their situation is still dire as upon arrival in the United States, Pearl and May are detained on Angel's Island for months undergoing untold suffering. They finally meet their 'spouses' but life for the sisters still has many trials in store, and a secret shared between them threatens their future.
"Shanghai Girls" is a well-woven narrative that flows well and Lisa See credibly evokes the bond between two sisters, whose love for one another is strong, yet also fraught by rivalries. This is not just a story about siblings for it is also about the clash between East and West as the sisters struggle to find their footing in a new world, even as the bonds of their old world remain strong. Lisa See is truly a gifted author for being able to portray both the old world of 17th and 19th century China [as seen in Peony and Snow Flower] and the new as seen in "Shanghai Girls". Final verdict: a compelling read....more info
- "Shanghai Girls"
Shanghai Girls: A Novel
Lisa's See's new novel, Shanghai Girls, provides a rich experience for its readers - taking them from the splendor, highlife, glamour and poverty of 1937 Shanghai to the struggles of Chinese immigrants to survive a virtual internment on Angel Island, off the coast of San Francisco, to the almost impossible challenges of trying to build a life in Los Angeles Chinatown in the context of an America that does not want them and treats them cruelly.
But despite its rich background, Shanghai Girls is ultimately the story of two sisters - Pearl and May - who desperately strive to help each other survive and at the same time replay in their minds and actions old rivalries, jealousies, and hurts. The summary of the book on See's web site puts it well: "They love each other but they also know exactly where to drive the knife to hurt the other sister the most." This is most dramatically shown in the novel's climax.
Pearl, speaking in first person, is the narrator, taking us from 1937 to 1957. This time period matches Parts IV and V of See's On Gold Mountain: The One-Hundred-Year Odyssey of My Chinese-American Family. The perspectives are different, however. In the memoir See is scrupulously objective in treatment family members, herself, and issues very close to her. Pearl lets us experience some of the same American experiences but from a different perspective and from the inside. Late in the novel, Pearl reflects: "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." This is certainly true of Pearl herself.
Growing up in Shanghai, the Paris of Asia, Pearl and her sister May live lives of privilege. Being a Dragon, Pearl is seen by her parents as a fiery, strong daughter who can take care of her self-absorbed Sheep sister. By the time she is 21, Pearl and May enjoy the status of being Beautiful Girls, Pearl rather insensitive to those who serve her and her wealthy family.
But then Pearl's journey into suffering begins. Her father loses his money in gambling debts and the sisters are forced into arranged marriages. The Japanese attack China and Shanghai is attacked by air and the country invaded. In the process Pearl and her mother are brutalized by Japanese soldiers and her mother is killed.
Having lost everything, Pearl and May are forced to flee to America to find their husbands. Surviving a grueling stay at Angel Island (the Ellis Island of the West), Pearl can only hope that her husband Sam and his family will accept her since she is bringing with her a new born daughter named Joy.
Much of Shanghai Girls centers on Pearl's attempt to adjust to life as a member of the Louie family. While May seeks happiness outside the home in her new country, especially in terms of her many associations with the glitzy world of Hollywood, Pearl sees her life as unending drudgery as she is locked into a routine of cleaning and cooking, working in her father-in-law's various business enterprises, and caring for Joy. In addition, she is largely responsible for caring for Vern, May's young and critically ill husband.
Although her father-in-law gradually comes to include Pearl, May, and Joy as true members of his family, Pearl grows closer to her mother-in-law, and discovers that her lower class husband is indeed an Ox in the truest sense, deeply loving and caring for his family, her new Christian and much older Chinese values are tested by the terrors of the McCarthy era of anti-communism accompanied by serious mistreatment of most Chinese people.
At the end of the novel the two sisters directly confront each other at last, venting all the anger and hurt each has repressed previously. Despite being very angry at May for what Pearl feels are very good reasons, May's attacks and self-defense make her realize that she may have been mistaken in many of her core beliefs over the years.
But finally it is Joy who saves Pearl. When she reaches the point where she will give up everything for Joy, Pearl truly becomes her mother's daughter -- and in the process becomes the Dragon she was meant to be.
- Shanghai Girls
Shanghai Girls, Lisa See's latest novel, focuses on the relationship between two sisters, and follows them from their carefree days as spoiled calendar girls in glittering pre-World War II Shanghai through unbelievable adversity as the war drags on. It is a tale of sisterly love, strength and sacrifice and is at once inspiring, enervating and harrowing.
The story is told from the perspective of elder sister Pearl. I loved See's casual, conversational use of the first-person - it was as if Pearl was confiding in me personally. I have read so much about the Japanese invasion of China over the years - Iris Chang's "The Rape of Nanking" and Nicholas Kristoff and Sheryl Wudunn's "China Wakes" (both of which made me sick to my stomach), and countless fictionalized accounts have given me a solid background on the horrors that occurred during that period in China's history. But Pearl's story was so personal - she was not an anonymous victim, but a living, breathing, happy and beautiful young woman placed in the most horrifying of circumstances. The fact that so many women were able to summon the physical and mental strength to continue living in the aftermath of such experiences is amazing. Pearl's fortitude is awe-inspiring and selfless. While Pearl's life appeared mundane and unadventurous on the surface to some, she is a survivor who had seen so much (from the final glory days of Shanghai, to the Japanese invasion, from her escape to America to her endurance of daily life as a Chinese wife in America.
Many of Pearl's sacrifices are for the benefit of her beautiful younger sister, May. Oftentimes impetuous and seemingly self-serving, May is Pearl's dearest friend and greatest challenge. As close are the sisters are, they often suffer as a result of poor communication and misunderstandings stemming from their traditional belief system that emphasizes silence in the face of adversity. The relationship between Pearl and May is applicable to all sisters, from all walks of life.
While both sisters were compelling and fascinating in their own right, I found the character Joy to be the most heartbreaking - her behavior has crushing repercussions. The stalwart character Sam is also devastating, as he manifests so much heartache and hardship in steely silence.
Shanghai Girls is a wonderful story, filled with unbelievable challenges and quiet moments of beauty....more info
- slow, but good
Another good job by Lisa Lee. If you're looking for a read that captures the Chinese experience in the US from the '30s to the late '50s, this does that wonderfully. You also get a bit of daily life in China in the early '30s, too.
The story captures many events in both countries, though there is no action at all in the book. And that's okay because the book works for what it is: a look at the Chinese experience, in particular, for females.
- Gripping and compelling historical novel
Like some other reviewers, I've also read and immensely enjoyed two of See's previous novels (_Snow Flower and the Secret Fan_ and _Peony in Love_), so I was thrilled to receive an advanced copy of her new novel. Of the three novels that I've read so far, _Snow Flower_ is still my favorite for its lyrical writing and poignancy, but _Shanghai Girls_ follows close behind. It's a gripping read, and offers such a compelling story that I found it difficult to put it down once I started reading it.
The novel follows two sisters, Pearl and May, as they go from young women in their early twenties (living in 1930's Shanghai) to their lives in America, and is told from Pearl's point of view. Along the way, the two women encounter various obstacles that are monumental in scope, and their relationship encounters difficulties of its own. (I'm being purposefully vague so as to avoid giving away too much information about the plot.) The novel is as much a novel about sisterhood as it is about how the Chinese were treated by our government during the Red Scare.
What I love about See's writing is her ability to blend historical information into her fictional narratives in a relatively seamless way. In this particular novel, See's integration of historical information is a bit heavy-handed in places (which is one of the reasons why I gave this book four stars instead of five), but the information she does provide offers interesting insights into Chinese culture, and into the persecution of and discrimination against Chinese immigrants.
This novel, unlike the others I've read by See, is also written in the present tense, which brings an immediacy to the story.
Overall, it was a real page-turner for me. While some of the events that unfold seem a bit too unrealistic/epic in scope, I'd still definitely recommend it if you enjoy historical fiction.
- Entertaining, but it bites off more than it can chew
Shanghai Girls, while ostensibly the story of two sisters who emigrate to the US from China in the late 1930s and of their lives first in their native Shanghai and later on in Los Angeles, is really the tale of China and Chinese immigrants to the US as a whole between the prewar years in the early 60s. It is best when it focuses on the personal lives of the protagonist, Pearl, and her younger sister,May, as well as the family into which they marry after their father falls on hard times and has to sell them. There is a certain point in the book, however, after just about every bad thing that ever happened to any Chinese immigrant to the US happens to the sisters that you think okay -- enough is enough, this is a little bit over the top, the scope too sweeping for one tiny family.
Still, if the narrative races past the Japanese invasion of Shanghai, the immigrant station on Angel Island and other events in the history of Chinese Americans, it is worth reading for the re-creation of 40s and 50s Los Angeles alone and for the introductory nibble of 20th-century Chinese history. Pearl is a little too heroic to be true, and you can spot much of the action coming a mile away, but it's still pretty entertaining throughout and the characters while not as deeply drawn as I would've cared for were still varied and likable.
Definitely worth reading if you're into Chinese history, immigrant history or just a good entertaining story....more info
- An accurate and painful depiction of Asian American experience
Being a Chinese American, (although I'm a guy, and I married a Caucasian woman born in Alabama, but I digress), historical works of Chinese Americans, even fictional in nature, hold a certain interest in me. And even though I've never been to China (I came from Hong Kong), I do reside in Northern California, and have visited Angel Island on multiple occassions, for example, so any view of early life for Chinese Americans in the US, particularly in California, appeal to me. So, on to the review.
As early as the very first chapter, I was struck by how different values were in Shanghai in the late 1930's. Pearl was a tall, thin, educated young woman with a rosy complexion. Yet her father loathed her tall stature and believed her college education was worthless. He favored Pearl's younger sister May, who was tiny with "an adorable fleshiness" and only high-school educated. Despite her father's obvious favoritism, Pearl and May adored and took care of each other. This bond was tested to its limits as the sisters struggled to carve out new lives for themselves in America after their comfortable lives in Shanghai came to an abrupt end.
The author's description of Pearl and May's transformation from carefree women in Shanghai to brides sold by their father to the "Golden Mountain" after he gambled away his wealth is brutal but honest. Lisa See did not sugarcoat any of the hardships and rewarded readers with a painfully authentic account of Chinese American immigration experience in the mid-50's.
"Shanghai Girls" is definitely a worthwhile read about sisterly bond and Asian American immigrants' hardships. This haunting story about struggles and inner strength will remain with me for quite awhile.
Recommended for someone willing to delve into a (fictional) life while learning a thing or two about how it was back then for Chinese immigrants....more info
- Worth reading
Pearl and May are sisters: well-educated, refined, and beautiful. With their family in Shanghai they live well. Set in the 1930s, this novel takes the reader along as the sisters are sent to America to marry due to their father's *awkward* financial situation.
Held at Ellis Island, they go through a series of experiences, good and bad. How they weather the changes is the crux of the novel.
The characters were interesting and well-drawn; the plot sometimes made me uncomfortable, but it kept my attention to the end....more info
- A gripping and compelling tale with a frustrating ending
I read "Shanghai Girls" in one setting, as I did not want to put the book down. The story pulled me in and kept me captivated until the end, which felt very unfinished and confusing for me. After seeing another review in which a possible sequel is mentioned the abrupt ending makes more sense but at the time I felt a bit let down when I finished the book. I didn't want the book to end on that sort of cliff-hanger, but I'd definitely be interested in reading the next, if and when it becomes available.
I like See's style of writing. It's rich, descriptive, though graphic at times. Yet the graphic passages do not detract from the novel, times were violent and I prefer realism to fantasy. As someone who is interested in history I like truth & realism in writing.
This was the first novel by Lisa See that I have read and although the ending was troubling to me I am interested in reading more by her....more info
- Just don't like sloppy endings
I suppose rather than an inclusive story, See meant Shanghai Girls be be a narrative snapshot of part of a bigger picture. Like the film Lost in Translation, this will have its diehard fans; I'm just not one of them. The ending, or lack thereof, for me undermines an otherwise beautiful piece of prose.
As readers of See's previous works might expect, the characters are deeply human and the storyline is dramatic, frustrating, and compelling. I'm sure it will be optioned for a film and go on to win Golden Globes. And if that's the book you're looking for this might be perfect. I'm the resolutions kind of reader, and this left me very unsatisfied....more info
- Hard to read, but talented writing
This was a difficult read for me. There were so many times I thought to put the book down, however the desire to give it a fair review, and the author's talent to make the story compelling kept me going. In the end, I think I am glad I stuck with it. But I still have plenty of gripes.
Chief among my gripes is many times, the main character acts absurdly stupid and because of her stupid actions, she suffers misery later on. I kind of wanted to yell at the characters (and the author) "Duh! How could you NOT know that would later bite you in the butt?" I hate it when a plot device is dependent upon a character making dumb choices. Okay, maybe I'm being harsh and they weren't dumb decisions but I couldn't understand why the main character did certain things and I guess I couldn't relate to her nor feel sorry for her later. Another thing that disturbed me was the violence portrayed. Yeah, I know it's war and it's reality, but the book opens with superficial and flowery things and then WHAM! War happens and all this horrible stuff comes flying off the page. I guess the violence accosted me. I think the author did that on purpose, but still. I didn't like being accosted. Also, I was reading, turning the page when suddenly, I see the acknowledgment. I think to myself, "what happened to the rest of the book?" Then it dawned on me, "Oh, that was the end." I feel like the author left us readers adrift with that ending.
But now that I have aired my gripes, I will mention the things I liked. Sam made the book worth reading. Old Man Louie made the book worth reading. I like that, despite the stupid decisions, despite the hardships, despite all the bad luck that could possibly happen to a person, Pearl perseveres. She continues to live, she continues to battle. And her sister's there beside her....more info
- good book with a bad ending
Pearl and May Chin are two beautiful westernized sisters living in Shanghai with their parents and who work as models in the 1930's. Their rather glamorous and spoilt lives are changed forever when their father goes bankrupt over gambling debts and sells them to two Chinese American brothers looking for wives from the old country.
The two girls do not intend on following the two strangers who are their husbands to America - but the Chinese mafia their father owes a lot of money to and the Japanese invasion of China in World War II make them change their minds rather quickly.
The girls go through one hardship and horror after another on their journey from their childhood home in Shanghai to Los Angeles - and once in LA they must try to become assimulated into a new family and a new country (one that pracrtices a lot of discriminations against Asians), and do not find either to be an easy task.
This book particularly shines in the depiction of the relationship between Pearl and May - the love between these two sisters is deep and genuine, but then again so is the rivalry and resentment.
If I have one problem with the novel, that problem would be that the book ends on a cliffhanger of sorts. While Pearl has finally moved from being a reactive character to being an active one and so her story is complete in an emotional/growth sense, the story also ends with her heading into possible great danger with no resolution of what happens to her.