Lisa See just knows how to bring it when she writes a book about the culture of Chinese women. She caught my interest with Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, then I fell in love with her writing when I read Peony in Love and now I want to go steady after reading Shanghai Girls. I have never experienced books like the ones I just mentioned. As the reader you can tell that she did the research and wrote each book with so much love. The subject of each book has love just pouring out of them and you can tell that each one meant a lot for her to write about being a Chinese American Woman (that's right y'all even though she looks 100% causation she is part Chinese, she says that she has hundreds of relatives but only about 12 people in her family that look like her)! As always this book was beautifully written and the story was a page turner!
When you first meet Pearl and her younger sister May they are high class, fashionable, modern, socialites in Shanghai in the 1930s. They go to parties, night clubs, shop, and pose for "beautiful-girl" paintings. Their father has a successful rickshaw business and life is just grand... So they think. When they find out that their father has gambled away all the families money and had to sell his rickshaw business and his daughters to a Chinese American man in California the girls worlds are turned upside down. Now they have to come to terms with their arranged marriages, and their fall from high society. Before they leave China for their new home the Japanese invade Shanghai and the girls must escape the city and find their way to the boat that will take them to Los Angeles. Then a lot of bad things happen (gotta read to find out) and finally they end up in America! But when they get here they are imprisoned on Angel Island (the Ellis Island of the West), where they are questioned and detained until the authorities figure out if they are coming here legally. After months of torment and a wonderful and beautiful thing happens (I'm being vague on purpose) they are finally released and sent to their new family in Hollywood. Again the girls must adjust to life as daughters-in-law in a very traditional Chinese American Family. Through out the entire story the even though there are so many things that happen the one thing that is constant is Pearl and Mays love for each other. They are sisters through and through and even though there is rivalry and harsh words that pass between them they have each other and that is the most important theme throughout the whole story.
The novel is interesting because it takes place between 1937 - 1957. The girls not only have to face the Japanese in their home land of China but also in their new home when the Japanese attack Pearl Harbor. You also get to see what life was like in Chinatown during this time when the Chinese people had to deal with a large amount of prejudice from the American people. It was a part of history that I was unfamiliar with so it was interesting to read and research how the Chinese endured these prejudices. Also, I love how Lisa See always paints such a vivid and realistic picture of her characters surroundings. When she is describing Shanghai she does a good job of showing the reader that it is glamorous, and glittering, but also that there is poverty, crime, and ugliness. There is a page in the book that describes the girls riding a rickshaw through the streets of Shanghai and they are describing the city with beautiful boulevards, dirty children begging, expensive cars, and crime, smells of rich food and French perfume, and also the smells of death and decay. She even goes so far as describing the sisters walking down the street and stepping over a dead baby on the sidewalk just like it was nothing at all. Though disturbing you get the full picture of Shanghai during this time in history and I appreciate See capturing this picture for us.
BOOK vs. MOVIE: I really really enjoyed this book but I don't think a movie would be very interesting. I feel like it is a story best told with words. There is no movie in the works right now and I hope they don't try it. I feel like it they would ruin it like they did to Memoirs of a Geisha.
RATING: 4 Stars
3 More reviews of Shanghai Girls:
Shanghai Girls by Lisa See
If you liked this then read: The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan