I am a fan of Lisa See. I loved Peony in Love and Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, and had high expectations for Shanghai Girls. She did not disappoint, in fact I think this one may be may favorite.
Summary: This is the story of two sisters, Pearl and May, born in Shanghai. They come from a wealthy family and live a life of luxury, but eventually their father gambles away all of the family’s money. In order to pay back some of his debts, he sells his daughters as wives to two American-born Chinese men. The sisters move to Los Angeles, in hopes of a better life with their husbands. Spanning a time period of 1930-the late 1950’s, See takes her readers from Shanghai as the Japanese are dropping bombs through WWII and the rise of a Communist China. The story is told from the point of view of the older sister, Pearl and we see America through the eyes of a young woman who struggles to start a home and family in a country who doesn’t want her.
Review: The struggles that these two sisters face are immense. They are heartbreakingly sad and tragic, yet I never lost faith in Pearl and May. Their bond as sisters is real, they argue, they compete, they see the same events from completely different perspectives, yet their faith and love for one another remains strong and keeps them together through it all. The sacrifices each makes for the other are staggeringly huge, and not truly understood until the very end of the novel. Lisa See also offers a portrayal of America that is not shown and a voice that is not often heard. The persecution that Chinese immigrants faced in the 30s, 40s and 50s is horrifying and tested all family ties. However, when Pearl is forced to leave her home and thrust into a culture of which she know nothing about, family is the one thing that will pull her through. While this story most definitely contains a lot of historical information, I think the true heart of this story lies within the Louie family and how they grow to love and support one another. I highly recommend this book.