Tuesday, June 2, 2009
Shanghai Girls by Lisa See
The latest novel by Lisa See continues her focus on Chinese culture, but this novel is relatively modern compared to her others. The story begins in 1937 in Shanghai and centers on two sisters, Pearl and May, best friends and "beautiful girls" who model for calendars and live the good life in Shanghai, earning their own money, frequenting dance clubs and spending large chunks of money on expensive Western dresses. All good things must come to an end though, so when their father loses the family money while gambling, the sisters are sold off in marriage to repay their father's debts. At the same time, the Japanese army invades China. The rest of the novel relates the tale of their escape from China and their struggle to connect with their new family while experiencing poverty and racism in the United States. See is an engaging storyteller who keeps the busy plot moving in a swift and concentrated manner. Her characterization is nearly flawless as she brings Pearl and May to life, rarely resorting to cliche. It was fascinating to read about the experience of Chinese immigration in the early twentieth century and how hard it was for the Chinese to be accepted in this country. If you enjoy multi-generational family sagas or reading about Chinese culture, this would be the book to put on your summer reading list.