Monday, January 18, 2010

Review: Shanghai Girls

Summary: 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. -- Random House


I am a huge fan of Lisa See's novels and I pretty much credit her for my interest in China and books that take place in China. I am a little late to the game in reading her latest novel SHANGHAI GIRLS, but it was so worth the wait. SHANGHAI GIRLS was everything I've come to expect (and love) about Lisa See's books -- there were wonderfully-developed characters, an intriguing storyline, and beautiful writing. Needless to say, I wasn't disappointed.

I absolutely love good historical fiction, and SHANGHAI GIRLS definitely met my criteria. Something about learning while also reading a great story appeals to me. I have been fascinated with China and its history for a few years now, and I thought that this novel taught me a great deal about China. And, of course, I think Ms. See's descriptions are extremely vivid and capture the essence of Shanghai and its people. As I read this novel, I could absolutely picture the 1930s Shanghai, and I could almost "feel" the prestige and glamor of the people.

What really stood out for me in this book was the development of the characters, especially Pearl and May. The reader meets both characters when they are young women on the verge of adulthood. Both girls are still living with their parents, and they have pretty affluent life styles. Suddenly, their lives are turned upside down and they lose everything except for each other. They find a way to get to America where they hope they can start over. This story really showed the strength of these two women -- goodness knows, they survived a great deal and even managed to continue despite their many setbacks.

One of my absolutely favorite parts of this story was how Ms. See explored the sisterly relationship between Pearl and May -- it felt very authentic to me. I thought Ms. See did a marvelous job of portraying the complexities of sisterhood. Like many sisters, Pearl and May were two very different people with very different personalities. Throughout all of the challenges they faced, they managed to stay best friends; and while they loved each other deeply, they still had the occasional bouts of jealousy and resentment. There relationship had its fair share of ups and downs throughout the years, but they always knew that they depend on each other.

SHANGHAI GIRLS is almost like a family epic for me, but it ended too soon! I think there is a great deal more to learn about the characters of Pearl, May and Joy (Pearl's daughter.) In so many ways, I think there is more to their story about living in America and I'm very curious about what happens to the future generations of the Chin women. I sincerely hope that Ms. See is working on a sequel.

For some strange reason, my book club has not read a Lisa See novel yet -- I know it's crazy, right? I think SHANGHAI GIRLS would make a wonderful start (and I know that only one other member has read it which is always a plus.) This novel is just rich with great things to discuss, and there is even a reading guide with twenty thought-provoking questions. Some of the themes that occur in this book that your group might want to explore in more detail include family relations, love, marriage, sacrifices, forgiveness, traditions, loss, and perseverance. I'm sure you will also want to talk about all of the secrets that the characters kept. And, one of my favorite topics of the novel was the relationship between the two sisters -- Pearl and May.

I'm sure you can tell by now that I thought this was a beautiful book and I highly recommend it! Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy of this novel. And thanks to TLC Book Tours for having me participate on this book tour.

16 comments:

Beth F said...

I like this one, but I really loved her previous two books, which took place in China. I understand there will be a sequel to Shanghai Girls, so I am looking forward to that.

Anna said...

Great review! This was my first Lisa See book and I was blown away. I can't wait to read her other novels, and I'm so looking forward to the sequel to this one.

--Anna
Diary of an Eccentric

Gerbera Daisy Mom said...

Perfect timing for this review, since this has become our "tribute" book to our departed book group member. Thank you!!!! I think I will forward this to our other members? OK?

rhapsodyinbooks said...

I really liked this book too. It definitely seemed to end on the promise of a sequel!

bermudaonion said...

I've got to make the time to read this book! My dad served in China in the late 1930's - he was one of the last Americans out of the country - so he's told me lots of stories about China during that period.

Bored_D said...

Every time I read a review for this book I become more and more convinced that I need to read it -- if only my library copy would become available sooner! Thanks for your review, maybe I'll pick up something else by Lisa See to tide me over in the meantime.

Karlie said...

There is indeed going to be a sequel. Ms. See is working on it right now. She is also coming to Lancaster in early April.

LisaMM said...

Karlie's right, a sequel is in the works! Thanks so much, Julie, for the absolutely wonderful review of Shanghai Girls! I'm a huge fan of Lisa See too and also think it would be great for my book club to read (we've read her last two together already).

We really appreciate all the time and energy you put into reading and reviewing SH. Thanks so much!

A Bookshelf Monstrosity said...

I just recently read Snow Flower and the Secret Fan and have absolutely fallen in love with See's writing! I'm so glad I've got three or four more books out there by her to read :)

April said...

Great review, Julie! I have seen a lot of this book, but have yet to put it within my grasp, lol

Suko said...

Julie, what a lovely review! I also read and reviewed this book. I thought it was wonderful, and felt as if I were part of the story. Lisa See is such an amazing writer!

Dawn @ sheIsTooFondOfBooks said...

Lisa See really did tackle the complexities of the sisters' relationship, didn't she?!? And like so many real sibling relationships, there was much more to it than what we saw on the surface.

Enthusiastic review, Julie! You'd have sold me on SHANGHAI GIRLS if I hadn't already read it :)

Holly (2 Kids and Tired) said...

I've wanted to read this one for awhile now. Great review. I have sisters and I'm curious about how she writes about that sisterly relationship.

Serena said...

I really enjoyed this novel as well and there is a sequel. I'm so excited...I can't wait to read it.

writergal said...

I want to read this. great review. I need to read Snow Flower and the Secret Fan first. I liked Peony in Love a lot.

LibraryLover said...

I enjoyed this book but was disappointed by the ending...perhaps Sees way of leaving you hanging for the sequel.