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Shanghai Girls

Shanghai Girls

4.0 948
by Lisa See

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BONUS: This edition contains a Shanghai Girls discussion guide and an excerpt from Lisa See's Dreams of Joy.

In 1937 Shanghai—the Paris of Asia—twenty-one-year-old Pearl Chin and her younger sister, May, are having the time of their lives. Both are beautiful, modern, and carefree—until the day their father tells them that he has


BONUS: This edition contains a Shanghai Girls discussion guide and an excerpt from Lisa See's Dreams of Joy.

In 1937 Shanghai—the Paris of Asia—twenty-one-year-old Pearl Chin and her younger sister, May, are having the time of their lives. Both are beautiful, modern, and carefree—until the day their father tells them that he has gambled away their wealth. To repay his debts, he must sell the girls as wives to suitors who have traveled from Los Angeles to find Chinese brides. As Japanese bombs fall on their beloved city, Pearl and May set out on the journey of a lifetime, from the Chinese countryside to the shores of America. Though inseparable best friends, the sisters also harbor petty jealousies and rivalries. Along the way they make terrible sacrifices, face 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.

Editorial Reviews

Until their father gambled away their family fortune, Pearl and May Chin were Shanghai beauties who led charmed lives. When midnight struck in 1937, these formerly carefree sisters were dispatched to California to be bartered off as wives for well-heeled Chinese immigrants. Their difficult journey takes them through squalid villages, an American internment camp, and trials that will make them closer, yet more jealous and competitive. Lisa See's Shanghai Girls pretends no false exoticism; the tribulations it enacts feel palpable because the characters seem real.
Janet Maslin
…a broadly sweeping tale that opens in Shanghai in 1937. The detail is thoughtful and intricate
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly

See (Peony in Love) explores tradition, the ravages of war and the importance of family in her excellent latest. Pearl and her younger sister, May, enjoy an upper-crust life in 1930s Shanghai, until their father reveals that his gambling habit has decimated the family's finances and to make good on his debts, he has sold both girls to a wealthy Chinese-American as wives for his sons. Pearl and May have no intention of leaving home, but after Japanese bombs and soldiers ravage their city and both their parents disappear, the sisters head for California, where their husbands-to-be live and where it soon becomes apparent that one of them is hiding a secret that will alter each of their fates. As they adjust to marriage with strangers and the challenges of living in a foreign land, Pearl and May learn that long-established customs can provide comfort in unbearable times. See's skillful plotting and richly drawn characters immediately draw in the reader, covering 20 years of love, loss, heartbreak and joy while delivering a sobering history lesson. While the ending is ambiguous, this is an accomplished and absorbing novel. (June)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal

In prewar 1930s Shanghai, carefree sisters Pearl Chin and younger, prettier May are the "beautiful girls" whose images on posters beckon viewers to buy products. They openly scoff at their parents' superstitious, old-world ways, but they soon learn that the good life is but an illusion. The Japanese army's brutal invasion of the city makes their lives as beautiful girls impossible. Their businessman father loses everything to the ruthless mob, and to pay off his debts he forces his daughters into arranged marriages to Chinese men living in the United States. See is masterly in her powerful depictions of the prejudice and harsh treatment the sisters encounter as they try to assimilate into the strange new world of Los Angeles. Possibly the best book yet from the author of Peony in Love; highly recommended. [See Prepub Alert, LJ2/1/09.]
—Marika Zemke

School Library Journal
Adult/High School—This extensively researched historical novel is engrossing and readable. Spanning three decades and two continents (from 1930s China to Los Angeles in the 1950s), the book explores universal themes: adolescence, family relationships, secrets, immigration, and discrimination. Readers meet Pearl and May as teenage sisters in prewar Shanghai. They revel in modern ways and defy the wishes of their parents by modeling for "Beautiful Girls" calendars and staying out until the wee hours. Pearl's narration has a confiding tone in the early chapters—she discusses clothes, make-up, parental restrictions, and love interests. As the story develops, See balances Pearl's personal revelations with evocative descriptions of people, places, meals, and Chinese customs, as well as several suspenseful episodes of action and drama. The well-drawn characters face realistic hardships, some personal (lost love, business failures) and others global (Japanese atrocities in China, World War II, communism). Vivid descriptions of life at Angel Island Immigration Station, the development of L.A.'s Chinatown, filmmaking in 1940s Hollywood, and the 1950s Confession Program convey the stress, excitement, and longing for home that many Chinese immigrants experienced in the United States. This book will appeal to readers of historical fiction, and may be of special interest to those with ties to the Chinese community.—Sondra VanderPloeg, Colby-Sawyer College, New London, NH
Kirkus Reviews
Two sisters escape war-ravaged Shanghai, only to face discrimination and the threat of deportation in the United States. See's latest fictional exploration of the lives of Chinese women (Peony in Love, 2007, etc.) begins in 1937 Shanghai, a cosmopolitan city under imminent threat of Japanese invasion. As oblivious to rumors of their beloved city's collapse as they are to their family's circumstances, Pearl Chin and her younger sister May continue to shop, frequent nightclubs and pose for illustrator Z.G.'s advertising calendars featuring "Beautiful Girls." However, Papa Chin, having lost his fortune to gambling debts, has sold his daughters into marriage to Sam and Vern, sons of Chinese-American entrepreneur Old Man Louie. After hasty weddings (only Pearl's union, with Sam, is consummated), the brides refuse to accompany their husbands to California. When Shanghai is bombed and Papa abruptly disappears, the women and their mother join the stream of refugees fleeing the Japanese on foot. Along the way, Pearl and her mother are brutally raped by Japanese soldiers, while May hides. Their mother does not survive, but the Chins reach Hong Kong and embark for the United States, having decided, in desperation, to join their husbands. At San Francisco's notorious Angel Island immigrant-internment center, May, pregnant by a boyfriend, prolongs the sisters' already extended quarantine until she is able to give birth in secrecy. Pearl claims May's daughter Joy as her own and Sam's. Once reunited with their spouses in L.A.'s Chinese district, the former Shanghai princesses must acclimatize themselves to a life of drudgery, toiling in the Louie family's curio shops and restaurants. Despite engrossingcomplications involving immigration issues and the impact of the '50s Red Scare on Chinese-Americans, the Chinatown section, spanning 20 years, seems overlong. The final chapters, however, wherein Z.G.'s Beautiful Girl artwork resurfaces as Maoist propaganda and the FBI stalks the family, are worth the wait. The close suggests See's next setting may be the People's Republic, a development sure to please her readership.
From the Publisher
“See is a gifted writer, and in Shanghai Girls she again explores the bonds of sisterhood while powerfully evoking the often nightmarish American immigrant experience.”—USA Today

“A buoyant and lustrous paean to the bonds of sisterhood.”–Booklist

“A rich work…as compulsively readable as it is an enlightening journey.”—Denver Post

“The glamour of prewar Shanghai is recalled in Lisa See’s deftly plotted Shanghai Girls.”Vogue


“An engrossing tale of two sisters.”–Time.com

Shanghai Girls is one of those books I could not wait to continue reading, because her characters' stories are so compellingly told.”—St. Louis Dispatch

“As in Snow Flower and the Secret Fan and Peony in Love, she has in her latest novel created ordinary women who, through willfulness and resiliency, accomplish extraordinary things…See, whose writing is as graceful as these '’beautiful girls,'’ pulls off another exceptional novel.”–Miami Herald

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Random House Publishing Group
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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Beautiful Girls

"our daughter looks like a South China peasant with those red cheeks," my father complains, pointedly ignoring the soup before him. "Can't you do something about them?"

Mama stares at Baba, but what can she say? My face is pretty enough- some might even say lovely-but not as luminescent as the pearl I'm named for. I tend to blush easily. Beyond that, my cheeks capture the sun. When I turned five, my mother began rubbing my face and arms with pearl creams, and mixing ground pearls into my morning jook-rice porridge-hoping the white essence would permeate my skin. It hasn't worked. Now my cheeks burn red-exactly what my father hates. I shrink down into my chair. I always slump when I'm near him, but I slump even more on those occasions when Baba takes his eyes off my sister to look at me. I'm taller than my father, which he loathes. We live in Shanghai, where the tallest car, the tallest wall, or the tallest building sends a clear and unwavering message that the owner is a person of great importance. I am not a person of importance.

"She thinks she's smart," Baba goes on. He wears a Western-style suit of good cut. His hair shows just a few strands of gray. He's been anxious lately, but tonight his mood is darker than usual. Perhaps his favorite horse didn't win or the dice refused to land his way. "But one thing she isn't is clever."

This is another of my father's standard criticisms and one he picked up from Confucius, who wrote, "An educated woman is a worthless woman." People call me bookish, which even in 1937 is not considered a good thing. But as smart as I am, I don't know how to protect myself from my father's words.

Most families eat at a round dining table, so they will always be whole and connected, with no sharp edges. We have a square teakwood table, and we always sit in the exact same places: my father next to May on one side of the table, with my mother directly across from her so that my parents can share my sister equally. Every meal-day after day, year after year-is a reminder that I'm not the favorite and never will be.

As my father continues to pick at my faults, I shut him out and pretend an interest in our dining room. On the wall adjoining the kitchen, four scrolls depicting the four seasons usually hang. Tonight they've been removed, leaving shadow outlines on the wall. They aren't the only things missing. We used to have an overhead fan, but this past year Baba thought it would be more luxurious to have servants fan us while we ate. They aren't here tonight and the room is sweltering. Ordinarily an art deco chandelier and matching wall sconces of etched yellow-and-rose-tinted glass illuminate the room. These are missing as well. I don't give any of this much thought, assuming that the scrolls have been put away to prevent their silken edges from curling in the humidity, that Baba has given the servants a night off to celebrate a wedding or birthday with their own families, and that the lighting fixtures have been temporarily taken down for cleaning.

Cook-who has no wife and children of his own-removes our soup bowls and brings out dishes of shrimp with water chestnuts, pork stewed in soy sauce with dried vegetables and bamboo shoots, steamed eel, an eight-treasures vegetable dish, and rice, but the heat swallows my hunger. I would prefer a few sips of chilled sour plum juice, cold mint-flavored sweet green bean soup, or sweet almond broth.

When Mama says, "The basket repairer charged too much today," I relax. If my father is predictable in his criticisms of me, then it's equally predictable that my mother will recite her daily woes. She looks elegant, as always. Amber pins hold the bun at the back of her neck perfectly in place. Her gown, a cheongsam made of midnight blue silk with midlength sleeves, has been expertly tailored to fit her age and status. A bracelet carved from a single piece of good jade hangs from her wrist. The thump of it when it hits the table edge is comforting and familiar. She has bound feet, and some of her ways are just as antiquated. She questions our dreams, weighing the meaning of the presence of water, shoes, or teeth as good or bad omens. She believes in astrology, blaming or praising May and me for one thing or another because we were born in the Year of the Sheep and the Year of the Dragon, respectively.

Mama has a lucky life. Her arranged marriage to our father seems relatively peaceful. She reads Buddhist sutras in the morning, takes a rickshaw to visit friends for lunch, plays mah-jongg until late in the day, and commiserates with wives of similar station about the weather, the indolence of servants, and the ineffectiveness of the latest remedies for their hiccups, gout, or hemorrhoids. She has nothing to fret about, but her quiet bitterness and persistent worry infuse every story she tells us. "There are no happy endings," she often recites. Still, she's beautiful, and her lily gait is as delicate as the swaying of young bamboo in a spring breeze.

"That lazy servant next door was sloppy with the Tso family's nightstool and stunk up the street with their nightsoil," Mama says. "And Cook!" She allows herself a low hiss of disapproval. "Cook has served us shrimp so old that the smell has made me lose my appetite."

We don't contradict her, but the odor suffocating us comes not from spilled nightsoil or day-old shrimp but from her. Since we don't have our servants to keep the air moving in the room, the smell that rises from the blood and pus that seep through the bandages holding Mama's feet in their tiny shape clings to the back of my throat.

Mama is still filling the air with her grievances when Baba interrupts. "You girls can't go out tonight. I need to talk to you."

He speaks to May, who looks at him and smiles in that beautiful way of hers. We aren't bad girls, but we have plans tonight, and being lectured by Baba about how much water we waste in our baths or the fact that we don't eat every grain of rice in our bowls isn't part of them. Usually Baba reacts to May's charm by smiling back at her and forgetting his concerns, but this time he blinks a few times and shifts his black eyes to me. Again, I sink in my chair. Sometimes I think this is my only real form of filial piety, making myself small before my father. I consider myself to be a modern Shanghai girl. I don't want to believe in all that obey, obey, obey stuff girls were taught in the past. But the truth is, May-as much as they adore her- and I are just girls. No one will carry on the family name, and no one will worship our parents as ancestors when the time comes. My sister and I are the end of the Chin line. When we were very young, our lack of value meant our parents had little interest in controlling us. We weren't worth the trouble or effort. Later, something strange happened: my parents fell in love-total, besotted love-with their younger daughter. This allowed us to retain a certain amount of liberty, with the result that my sister's spoiled ways are often ignored, as is our sometimes flagrant disregard for respect and duty. What others might call unfilial and disrespectful, we call modern and unbound.

"You aren't worth a single copper coin," Baba says to me, his tone sharp. "I don't know how I'm ever going to-"

"Oh, Ba, stop picking on Pearl. You're lucky to have a daughter like her. I'm luckier still to have her as my sister."

We all turn to May. She's like that. When she speaks, you can't help listening to her. When she's in the room, you can't help looking at her. Everyone loves her-our parents, the rickshaw boys who work for my father, the missionaries who taught us in school, the artists, revolutionaries, and foreigners whom we've come to know these last few years.

"Aren't you going to ask me what I did today?" May asks, her demand as light and breezy as a bird's wings in flight.

With that, I disappear from my parents' vision. I'm the older sister, but in so many ways May takes care of me.

"I went to see a movie at the Metropole and then I went to Avenue Joffre to buy shoes," she continues. "From there it wasn't far to Madame Garnet's shop in the Cathay Hotel to pick up my new dress." May lets a touch of reproach creep into her voice. "She said she won't let me have it until you come to call."

"A girl doesn't need a new dress every week," Mama says gently. "You could be more like your sister in this regard. A Dragon doesn't need frills, lace, and bows. Pearl's too practical for all that."

"Baba can afford it," May retorts.

My father's jaw tightens. Is it something May said, or is he getting ready to criticize me again? He opens his mouth to speak, but my sister cuts him off.

"Here we are in the seventh month and already the heat is unbearable. Baba, when are you sending us to Kuling? You don't want Mama and me to get sick, do you? Summer brings such unpleasantness to the city, and we're always happier in the mountains at this time of year."

May has tactfully left me out of her questions. I prefer to be an afterthought. But all her chattering is really just a way to distract our parents. My sister catches my eye, nods almost imperceptibly, and quickly stands. "Come, Pearl. Let's get ready."

I push back my chair, grateful to be saved from my father's disapproval.

"No!" Baba pounds his fist on the table. The dishes rattle. Mama shivers in surprise. I freeze in place. People on our street admire my father for his business acumen. He's lived the dream of every native-born Shanghainese, as well as every Shanghailander-those foreigners who've come here from around the world to find their fortunes. He started with nothing and turned himself and his family into something. Before I was born, he ran a rickshaw business in Canton, not as an owner but as a subcontractor, who rented rickshaws at seventy cents a day and then rented them to a minor subcontractor at ninety cents a day before they were rented to the rickshaw pullers at a dollar a day. After he made enough money, he moved us to Shanghai and opened his own rickshaw business. "Better opportunities," he-and probably a million others in the city-likes to say. Baba has never told us how he became so wealthy or how he earned those opportunities, and I don't have the courage to ask. Everyone agrees-even in families-that it's better not to inquire about the past, because everyone in Shanghai has come here to get away from something or has something to hide.

May doesn't care about any of that. I look at her and know exactly what she wants to say: I don't want to hear you tell us you don't like our hair. I don't want to hear that you don't want us to show our bare arms or too much of our legs. No, we don't want to get "regular full-time jobs." You may be my father, but for all your noise you're a weak man and I don't want to listen to you. Instead, she just tilts her head and looks down at my father in such a way that he's powerless before her. She learned this trick as a toddler and has perfected it as she's gotten older. Her ease, her effortlessness, melts everyone. A slight smile comes to her lips. She pats his shoulder, and his eyes are drawn to her fingernails, which, like mine, have been painted and stained red by applying layers of red balsam blossom juice. Touching-even in families-isn't completely taboo, but it certainly isn't accepted. A good and proper family offer no kisses, no hugs, no pats of affection. So May knows exactly what she's doing when she touches our father. In his distraction and repulsion, she spins away, and I hurry after her. We've taken a few steps when Baba calls out.

"Please don't go."

But May, in her usual way, just laughs. "We're working tonight. Don't wait up."

I follow her up the stairs, our parents' voices accompanying us in a kind of discordant song. Mama carries the melody: "I pity your husbands. 'I need shoes.' 'I want a new dress.' 'Will you buy us tickets to the opera?' " Baba, in his deeper voice, beats out the bass: "Come back here. Please come back. I need to tell you something." May ignores them, and I try to, admiring the way she closes her ears to their words and insistence. We're opposites in this and so many things.

Whenever you have two sisters-or siblings of any number or either sex- comparisons are made. May and I were born in Yin Bo Village, less than a half day's walk from Canton. We're only three years apart, but we couldn't be more different. She's funny; I'm criticized for being too somber. She's tiny and has an adorable fleshiness to her; I'm tall and thin. May, who just graduated from high school, has no interest in reading anything beyond the gossip columns; I graduated from college five weeks ago.

My first language was Sze Yup, the dialect spoken in the Four Districts in Kwangtung province, where our ancestral home is located. I've had American and British teachers since I was five, so my English is close to perfect. I consider myself fluent in four languages-British English, American English, the Sze Yup dialect (one of many Cantonese dialects), and the Wu dialect (a unique version of Mandarin spoken only in Shanghai). I live in an international city, so I use English words for Chinese cities and places like Canton, Chungking, and Yunnan; I use the Cantonese cheongsam instead of the Mandarin ch'i pao for our Chinese dresses; I say boot instead of trunk; I use the Mandarin fan gwaytze-foreign devils-and the Cantonese lo fan-white ghosts-interchangeably when speaking about foreigners; and I use the Cantonese word for little sister-moy moy- instead of the Mandarin-mei mei-to talk about May. My sister has no facility with languages. We moved to Shanghai when May was a baby, and she never learned Sze Yup beyond words for certain dishes and ingredients. May knows only English and the Wu dialect. Leaving the peculiarities of dialects aside, Mandarin and Cantonese have about as much in common as English and German-related but unintelligible to nonspeakers. Because of this, my parents and I sometimes take advantage of May's ignorance, using Sze Yup to trick and deceive her.

From the Hardcover edition.

Meet the Author

Lisa See is the New York Times bestselling author of Peony in Love, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, Flower Net (an Edgar Award nominee), The Interior, and Dragon Bones, as well as the critically acclaimed memoir On Gold Mountain. The Organization of Chinese American Women named her the 2001 National Woman of the Year. She lives in Los Angeles.

From the Hardcover edition.

Brief Biography

Los Angeles, California
Date of Birth:
February 18, 1955
Place of Birth:
Paris, France
B.A., Loyola Marymount University, 1979

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Shanghai Girls 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 948 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Once again Lisa See puts us a land we are unfamiliar with and introduces us to wonderful characters who are experiencing life in an unfamiliar land as well. Our schools don't teach much of Chinese history and Lisa's book educates us in the Chinese experience during the 20th century in Shanghai and also Los Angeles. My mother grew up in LA and I remember her stories of the LA she remembered and Lisa captures the multi-national flavor of the era very well. Her story is a compelling tale following two sisters and their love and friendship that only sisters can have. In Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, Lisa explores the relationships of the "sworn sisters". In Shanghai Girls, the sisters are modern and breaking away from the customs of old China, experiencing the bonds and rivalries of sisters, and coming to live and learn a new country and it's ideas. Sadly the story ends all too soon and we are left wanting more. I had the opportunity to ask Lisa about that and she also would like to see the story continue. We are reading Shanghai Girls for our June book club and I am sure that everyone will love this book as much as we have Lisa See's other books. (Her first three mysteries are wonderful, too. Modern day China and it's changes and challenges are the themes.)
1Katherine1 More than 1 year ago
Shanghai Girls is a very good read. Sisters Pearl and May are modern and somewhat spoiled girls living in Shanghai in 1937. Working as "beautiful girls", they are hired by artists who paint their pictures for calendars and other advertisements. Although their parents don't approve of this work, Pearl and May are modern young women who enjoy the status and relative wealth these modeling jobs provide. All this changes when the girls discover that their father has not only gambled away the family home and fortune, but their earned money as well. To get himself out of debt, their father has sold the girls as brides for two unknown men in America. In the background of all this, Japan has invaded China and is advancing on the city of Shanghai. What results is a fascinating story of families torn apart, not just by circumstances but by lies as well. I thought Lisa See did a very good job making the past come to life with this book, just as she did in Snow Flower and the Secret Fan (I haven't read Peony in Love...yet). The conflict between the three generations is something everyone can relate too, as is the ignorance of youth. The culture shock the Chinese immigrants experienced in the novel really makes it clear how difficult it is to fit into a new (and sometimes hostile) society. The one and only complaint I have about the book is that the story seems to go off the rails a bit at the very end. I almost felt like Ms.See wanted to end the book as abruptly and easily as possible, so she threw that in there. Fortunately, I found the rest of the book so charming and wonderful that the ending did not take away from my enjoyment of the book.
BookaholicTracy More than 1 year ago
This is my second book I read by Lisa See and like the first it was hard to put down. i would recommend it to everyone.
Kiki_Prince More than 1 year ago
This is my first discovery of Lisa See and I'm eager to read more by this author. Shanghai Girls had all the wonderful elements of fiction - conflict, plot, secrets, dynamic characters - and her readers immediately connect with the two sisters. This piece of wonderfully written historical fiction gives an insightful look into China and Anti-Chinese politics in the United States. I thoroughly enjoyed it and from page one, I could not put down the novel until the very end.
Annibebe More than 1 year ago
Initially, I wasn't sure that I liked this book because I found the main characters, 2 sisters from Shanghai, unsympathetic. They were spoiled and ungrateful. However, Lisa See, redeemed herself by painting a picture of the Japanese invasion of China and the ensuing tragedies sparked by the sisters flight from their home. The author does a good job illustrating their new lives in the United States and ultimately the epiphanies that result from truth! I recommend this book.
SheGeek More than 1 year ago
This book is an excellent study of the emotional bonds that tie sisters together. While the two main characters love each other deeply the reader will gain insight into what types of wedges can also be present in such a relationship. And along the way the reader will learn some things about Chinese culture. You cannot help but be intrigued by all these two women go through. I will admit that the ending of this book felt a bit abrupt. But after reading this book I was inspired to read another of Lisa See's works.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Lisa See writes in a way that I can picture what and where the story is. I thoroughly enjoy her style and the historical significance.
lola007 More than 1 year ago
Lisa See is a good writer who always provides rich descriptions that take readers right to the moment she's describing. Overall, the book is pretty depressing, but demonstrates personal triumph over adversity. The ending is VERY DISAPPOINTING. The book should have been Shanghai Girls: Part One. I couldn't believe it when I clicked to the last page; I thought perhaps the entire book hadn't downloaded. A sequel is a must because the story is incomplete. Note to author: Please don't do this to us again.
Kager More than 1 year ago
This book was really good. A little hard to get into at first, but after the first couple chapters, I was hooked. The characters were very well portrayed and the story line was excellent and full of surprises. We need a sequel. Pearl needs to find Joy.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I love reading her books, it takes me back in time and puts you right in the book with the other characters. I visited China a couple of years ago. The country and language fascinate me and reading these books gives me a little piece of China every time I read them.
sophieAK More than 1 year ago
This is a great book. Yet, I have to give it only 4 stars. I was captivated by the beginning especially the 1930s Chinese culture (all descriptions create quite vivid images). Unfortunately, once the story moved to the United States the plot seemed rushed. The ending caught me by surprise as well - I felt the book needed a couple more chapters to finish its tale. Regardless, this is truly a great book. I would recommended it to anyone who has interest in Chinese culture or just would like to explore relationships/social interactions between people from the middle of the twentieth century.
AweSam More than 1 year ago
Shanghai Girls tells the story of two sisters, Pearl and May, who lived the exquisite life in Shanghai, China. The year is 1937 and things are going well in China in this period.  Pearl is considered the smart sister, she's the one who's responsible for her sister.  She's fluent in four languages, including the secret language she and her parents use, the Sze Yup dialect.  Her Chinese zodiac sign is the Dragon, which is known to be the most powerful of signs.  May is known as the beautiful one and she loves to live the carefree life.  She's the girl who likes to have fun here and there.  May's Chinese Zodiac sign is the Sheep, according to their mother, the Sheep thinks only of itself and its own comforts.  May can get pretty much what she wants by persuading her father in a way her sister can't.  The main conflict is how the two sisters try to fit in America.  They go through many hardships and face bad times through the years of World War II and the Communist War.  One specific plot event is how Pearl has to be the mother of May's child.  Back then, it would've been considered very bad if a girl was to known to be with child with another man.  Even if she was married and the child was not the husband's.  This important key event implies how Pearl has to be the mother and daughter-in-law while May gets to go out.  This act lasts for many years to come.  Although, Pearl has mixed feelings of this act, May wishes she could be Pearl.  Their relationship as sisters is complicated but one can understand about these two.  Another plot event is that they learn to keep quiet about who their family really is.  If the secret were to get out, the family could get deported back to China.  Anything could happen to these two sisters, at any time that is.  They don't want to be sent back to China, times are changing over there.  China even has a major impact on America's thinking of them over the years.  The thought of China is affected by discrimination and the family is aware of this situation. What I liked about the book was of Pearl's character throughout her stay in America.  She's been very obedient to her in-laws and she's also been observant of her surroundings.  Pearl describes the events that are happening with such detail and displays imagery.   Her character might be more likable to readers as she has these heartfelt and sad moments.  People might be able to relate to her role as a daughter, sister, wife, mother, or a daughter-in-law.  She is a very strong character and has went through so much she didn't deserve to go through.  Pearl loves her sister more than anything and would strive for anything.  Even though she's jealous of her sister, May, they will always remain best friends even if their hair turns white.  An important aspect of her is how she was in love with an artist, Z.G.  He was more sought after her sister and she didn't realize this until later.  The main thing I disliked about this book was of what happened to Pearl and her mother in the shack.  That night changed Pearl's life psychologically, emotionally and physically.  Pearl still thinks of what happened to her but there is something revealing about her.  She went to go check in on her mother and suffered the same.  It was a sign of respect as said by her, the supreme act of filial piety.  If there was a way to reverse time, Pearl definitely would. This life-changing event stays on her mind and comes up during certain times in the book.  I would most definitely recommend this book to anyone who's ready to read a book filled with hope, despair, grieve, love, and happiness.  There are some moments where you could relate to or understand about.  So much is revealed of each character in the story.  Some graphic content is included , anything unexpected or disturbing could happen.  A person who is matured enough can read this book, as stated above, because there are some adult content as well.  Even if is 300 or so pages, you feel as if you embarked on this journey with two sisters.  You have went through what they went through and learned so much about them.  Pearl and May are both strong, they faced aplenty. Twenty-one years is a large expansion of time of their lives.  It is but one long journey, that the two inseparable sisters had traveled.  They would always remember a time when things were much simpler.  However, their stay in America has shaped and molded them into something stronger.  Even though the two sisters are from Shanghai, they have learned to become Americans in the long run.
belazy3 More than 1 year ago
Timberlake More than 1 year ago
This was a beautifully portrayed story of sisters--very different from one another in so many ways. Through their good and bad days in China and America, they held onto each other and made sacrifices only sisters can understand. Lisa See most assuredly did her job researching the history of both China and Los Angeles during the time period she created. You could feel the sadness, anxiety, and fear as she spun this tale. The bright spots and loyalty were poignantly woven as well. I can't help wondering if there will be (or is--and I shall look) a continuation of this story in another book as Pearl searches for her daughter, Joy. Bravo! I learned quite a bit of history in this emotional story.
nuee More than 1 year ago
To follow Pearl and May from Shanghai to Los Angeles in 1937 is to track the millions of female victims of wars. As if terror, hunger and danger aren't enough, the women suffer rape and humiliation. They run from Chinese gangs only to encounter the warring Japanese. Landing in the U.S. offers a new set of challenges: strange food, incarceration, discrimination and the daily frustration of analyzing the political and social winds in a country sure to go to war. Pearl and May, each in their own way, succeed; they love and laugh and get a stake in their new country.
KashaMc More than 1 year ago
This was another absolutely beautifully written work by Lisa See. I was captured by the 1st page & had a very hard time putting the book down. It is a glimpse into Chinese & American History during the 1930's & 1940's: pre & during WWII. The Shanghai sisters escape from Shanghai, the city they loved & the journey through all the hardships they lived through to grasp part of the "American Dream" is a poignant story of the strength of women & the ties that bind sisters!
Shellyjj More than 1 year ago
I've never read one of Ms. See's books before, so I wasn't sure what to expect. I was floored by her amazing research and ability to depict historical places and events. That said, though, there was was just so much more I wanted from this book. I felt that way too many events and major plot lines were just skimmed over. With as much time as the book covers, I guess this can't be helped, but it was jarring nonetheless. I also never really got Pearl - as a first-person narrator, I feel that I should trust her, comprehend her actions, and perhaps even like her somewhat. She never grew on me, though, and was a fairly hard-to-reach character. My main problem, however, was that the theme of the story centers on two sisters and their love for each other, through all circumstances. I know blood is thicker than water, and I've seen some examples in real life, but I don't have a sister and I could not relate at all. This is obviously not the author's fault, but it made the book less enjoyable for me. When someone deliberately hurts you, mocks you and refuses their duties at your expense, I'm not sure why you would ignore all this. Thus my lack of siblings and of "getting" Pearl came together to really decrease my experience with the book. Also, after finishing it, I'm not sure what See's overall aim of the book was, and that's not a good way to be left hanging.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Don't you hate it when you're into a book, but it gets to the end and you're like "That's It!!!". That's what happened to me with this book. Still, it's very well written and the character development is great. It's still worth the read.
sara_p More than 1 year ago
Lisa See is obviously very well educated on life not only in Shanghai, but in the beginnings of Chinese-America in LA. Reading this book was an experience to dive into a culture I've never explored, and it made me feel for what the Chinese-American people went through not only in their home country, but once they came to America. The book was written very well, the plot was interesting and carried me from front to back - the only thing I was slightly disappointed with was the slight abruptness of the ending, but I guess the novel did have to end somewhere (she easily could have kept going for another 200 pages!). Overall, an excellent read - can't wait to read her others.
BookLoverNV More than 1 year ago
I can't believe some of the negative reviews of this book. I really liked this book. It was a good story - interesting and at times tragic. But I learned of a time period I am very unfamiliar with. I can not believe how our government treated Asian immigrants and citizens during the wars. I actually thought maybe the author exaggerated her claims until I read up on it. I like the sisters, their personalities - their differences. They seem like a real family who went through a lot of difficult problems. My only complaint is that the story seemed to end a little abruptly. I want to know happened next! This is the first book I have read from this author and I look forward to reading more from her. I definately recommend for anyone who likes historical fiction.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Really People? I can't even begin to believe the ratings this book received. Is anyone here actually familiar with good literature? This book wasn't even close to being remarkable in any way, shape, or form. Talk about your depressing reads with no light at the end of the tunnel. Is that beautiful reading to most? Unresolved disputes? Unimaginative chaos? Mother/daughter rape scenes? Guilt, upon guilt, upon never ending "shoot me in the head" guilt. Predictable story lines...death, death, and yet even more death...disappointment after disappointment. Nothing and I mean NOTHING about this novel makes me want to discuss it with friends or recommend it to anyone. Let me make this perfectly clear, not all stories have a happy ending, but some where along the pages there is happiness that makes the ending bitter sweet. Having read Snow Flower and Peony, two novels that left me breathless for days after reading them, this book was a gross pandemic of misery. If you like that sort of thing, great! But for those of you who prefer a more enriching read with twists and turns and an actual story line...skip it. You won't be missing anything.
ReadSandiRead More than 1 year ago
Sweeping panoramas, descriptive naarative, and compelling story all lead to a breathtaking experience. This is my first Lisa See book and I will be purchasing more.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I loved this book it brought tears to my eyes and feeled my heart with love. It was very daring, and exciting. Right when you think you know what's about to happen next you get another suprise! It was great.
Coconut_Library More than 1 year ago
Shanghai Girls was my September Book Club pick and it did not disappoint. The book is set in fairly modern times compared to Snow Flower and the Secret Fan and Peony in Love, and is about two sisters, Pearl and May, who leave Shanghai, China for California at the brink of World War II. To experience the start of the war through their eyes, living in Shanghai, was a perspective that I have never been privy to before. The horrors that they face before they are able to leave China are extreme, and there is one particular scene that is very difficult to read. Once the girls get to America, life is safer but not necessarily happier. Much of the novel builds the characters and their relationships with each other. It also teaches us about the setting in which the story is taking place; Chinatown in Los Angeles, California. Gaining understanding about this neighborhood (and other cultural neighborhoods like it), and why they exist in the first place, was eye opening and humbling. See throws her readers a curve ball, towards the end, that caused me to choke up, and she leaves us with a cliffhanger. We do not find out exactly what happens to the characters, but we understand where they are headed. Pick up a copy and see for yourself and be thankful we live in the time period we do, with the freedom we have. (originally posted on www.coconutlibrary.typepad.com)
Camsgrand2001 More than 1 year ago
I loved the book. I would love to have known these sisters. I read it in two days (would have been sooner if I didn't have to sleep). I am really looking forward to the follow-up (please let there be one. It would be unfair if there wasn't). It gives so much insight to the way it was. Most US citizens are unaware of what went on "back then." I give much insight to why citzens of other countries want to be here. If everyone was like they are portrayed in the book, Welcome to America.