Monday, June 15, 2009

Shanghai Girls by Lisa See

One of my favorite books from recent years is Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See. I recommend this book all the time - to library patrons, friends, family members, people who read my blog and complete strangers. So I was jumping for joy when Lisa See's newest book, Shanghai Girls, was in a recent box of new books that came into the library. I didn't even know See had a new book coming out. Yippee!! Feels like Christmas!

Before I get to the meat of the story, I have to comment on the cover of this book. It is an absolute work of art. This is probably the most beautiful cover I have ever seen on any book. I love the soft color palette, the 1940's feel of the painting (?), the soft focus used on the girls' faces vs. the sharper focus of their clothing. Just gorgeous. The jacked art is credited to FormAsia Books, Hong Kong. Not sure what that is, but I'm going to check it out as soon as I'm done with this review.

Shanghai Girls tells the story of two sisters, Pearl and May, who live in the very sophisticated and "westernized" city of Shanghai in the late 1930s. Pearl and May come from a prosperous family and live a glamorous life full of excitement. This all comes to an abrupt end when their father gambles away the family's wealth and rickshaw business. In order to pay off his debts, he must sell his daughters as wives to two young brothers who have traveled to Shanghai from California to find Chinese brides. Pearl and May seem to go along with this plan, but they have no intention of fulfilling this contract made by their father. Everything changes, however, when the Japanese begin bombing Shanghai and Pearl and May must leave Shanghai in order to survive.

After a harrowing and life changing journey through war-torn China, the two sisters eventually find their way to Los Angeles and their husbands' family. Over the years Pearl and May make lives for themselves in California with their new family. But, through all their trials and for all their lives they remain devoted to each other as sisters.

Shanghai Girls illuminates a period of history that I previously didn't know much about. Learning about the experiences of Chinese immigrants living in California during the McCarthy era was illuminating for me. As was learning about the lives of the immigrants living in Chinatown and how they came to be in America. Fascinating. The story of Pearl and May and their experiences as wealthy Shanghai Girls, as refugees, as newly arrived immigrants, as new brides and finally as women who have built lives for themselves in the US was also interesting. Overall, Shanghai Girls is a good, solid story. It wasn't amazing. It wasn't a book I'll stop strangers on the street to tell them about. On the other hand, if someone was looking forward to or was interested in reading it, I wouldn't discourage them.
I would give it 3+ STARS (I liked it+).

Images from Google Images

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