Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Book Review: Shanghai Girls by Lisa See

Book Details:
Title: Shanghai Girls
Author: Lisa Lee
2009, Random House
ISBN: 978-1-4000-6711-4
Genre: Historical Fiction

Book Summary:
In 1937, Shanghai is the Paris of Asia, a city of great wealthy 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, Pear land 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 discriminations,  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.

My Review:
I received this book from someone I work with. I was not sure what I would think of it; it didn't see the type of book I would normally pick up. But, I'm always intrigued when someone tells me a book is so good they are willing to loan it to me to read.

Shanghai Girls, as the summary states, is about two sisters who grow up in a wealthy family in Shanghai, China. They want for nothing and are pretty spoiled by their parents. They are fairly insulated from the politics that are swirling around them in 1937 - the Japanese are a real threat - Mao is trying to take over the government and make it Communist, etc. But then the girls father announces that he is selling them (they are only girls, not the coveted boys, after all) to pay his debts.

Together, the girls overcomes huge obstacles to reach America and their new husbands. Their lives are forever changed by things that happened along the way. We follow their lives over the next 40 years as they work in the family business, raise a child and fight against being deported during the Red Scare.

I learned lots of things about Chinese culture, religion, customs. Also about conditions in Chinatowns in America and discrimination against Chinese-Americans during that time period. It was really, really interesting.

This was definitely a different sort of book for me.... it took me awhile to get through it. But it was very good - I'm not sure whether to be glad or sad that I don't have a sister! =)

Bottom line: Worth reading.

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