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Shanghai Girls

by Lisa See
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Product Details

  • Publisher: Random House Trade Paperbacks
  • Publishing date: 02/02/2010
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-13: 9780812980530
  • ISBN: 0812980530


Book Description
For readers of the phenomenal bestsellers Snow Flower and the Secret Fan and Peony in Love--a stunning new novel from Lisa See about two sisters who leave Shanghai to find new lives in 1930s Los Angeles.

May and Pearl, two sisters living in Shanghai in the mid-1930s, are beautiful, sophisticated, and well-educated, but their family is on the verge of bankruptcy. Hoping to improve their social standing, May and Pearl’s parents arrange for their daughters to marry “Gold Mountain men” who have come from Los Angeles to find brides.

But when the sisters leave China and arrive at Angel’s Island (the Ellis Island of the West)--where they are detained, interrogated, and humiliated for months--they feel the harsh reality of leaving home. And when May discovers she’s pregnant the situation becomes even more desperate. The sisters make a pact that no one can ever know.

A novel about two sisters, two cultures, and the struggle to find a new life in America while bound to the old, Shanghai Girls is a fresh, fascinating adventure from beloved and bestselling author Lisa See.

Amazon Exclusive: Lisa See on Shanghai Girls

I’m writing this on a plane to Shanghai. For the last couple of weeks I’ve been thinking about all the things I want to see and do on this research trip: look deeper into the Art Deco movement in Shanghai, visit a 17th-century house in a village of 300 people to observe the Sweeping the Graves Festival, and check out some old theaters in Beijing. But as I sit on the plane, I’m not thinking of the adventures that are ahead but of the people and places I’ve left behind. I’ve been gone from home only a few hours and already I’m homesick!

This puts me in mind of Pearl and May, the characters in Shanghai Girls. This feeling--longing for home and missing the people left behind--is at the heart of the novel. We live in a nation of immigrants. We all have someone in our families who was brave enough, scared enough, or crazy enough to leave the home country to come to America. I’m a real mutt in terms of ancestry, but I know that the Chinese side of my family left China because they were fleeing war, famine, and poverty. They were lured to America in hopes of a better life, but leaving China also meant saying goodbye to the homes they’d been born in, to their parents, brothers, and sisters, and to everything and everyone they knew. This experience is the blood and tears of American experience.

Pearl and May are lucky, because they come to America together. They’re sisters and they have each other. I’ve always wanted to write about sisters and I finally got my chance with Shanghai Girls. You could say that either I’m an only child or that I’m one of four sisters, because I have a former step-sister I’ve known for over 50 years and two half-sisters from different halves who I’ve known since they were born. Is Shanghai Girls autobiographical? Not really, but my sister Katharine and I once had a fight that was like the flour fight that May and Pearl got into when they were girls. And there was an ice cream incident that I used in the novel that sent my sister Clara right down memory lane when she read the manuscript. I’m also the eldest, and we all know what that means. I’m the one who’s supposed to be the bossy know-it-all. (But if that’s true, then why are they the ones who are always right?) What I know is that we’re very different from each other and our life experiences couldn’t be more varied, and yet we have a deep emotional connection that goes way beyond friendship. My sisters knew me when I was a shy little kid, helped me survive my first broken heart, share the memories of bad family car trips, and were at my side for the happiest moments in my life. More recently, we’ve begun to share things like the loss of our childhood homes, the changing of the neighborhoods we grew up in, and the frailties and illnesses of our myriad parents.

My emotions and experiences are deeply entwined with the stories I write. So as I fly over the Pacific, of course I’m thinking about May and Pearl, the people and places they left behind, the hopes and dreams that kept them moving forward, and the strength and solace they found in each other, but I’m thinking about myself too. As soon as I get to the hotel, I’m going to call my husband and sons to tell them I arrived safely, and then I’m going to send some e-mails to my sisters.--Lisa See

(Photo © Patricia Williams)

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  • Lisa See Does It Again
    From Amazon

    I don't know a whole lot about Asian culture, but I had a hard time not getting sucked into this book. The characters are so easy to connect to and even when I wasn't reading, I found myself wondering what was going to happen to Pearl and May. A LOT happens in "Shanghai Girls" and at some points you might feel like the book has gone on too long. After I was about 1/4 way through, I felt almost tired wondering what else could go wrong for these poor girls. But I also felt really curious and invested in their story and at no point did I get the desire to close the book and give up. Even when I finished the book, I found myself still thinking about Pearl and May. Lisa See is an incredibly engaging writer and does an excellent job at describing sister and family relationships.

  • Good plot, slow pace and not so credible life
    From Amazon

    I just finished this yesterday. It's a good story about two Shanghainese girls's life from pre-War Shanghai to 50s and their life in first generation Chinese American society. There are three particular scenes that I would highly recommend people to read. The first is the strong contrast of pre-War Shanghai's life vs at the beginning of war and the sisters journey out of China. It tells life and death and cruelty of the war. The second is the sisters' experience in Angel island while arriving in US and their experience in interrogations during that period. The third is around the period where Sam, the main character Pearl's husband, committed suicide at the end of the story. For those, I would recommend people to read through the whole book. However, in general, I find the book is a bit slow paced as the author spend a lot of time laying out great detail of the story line. And also, as myself a Shanghainese origin, I found the main characters less credible and does not really ring a bell as people from my city. To cite one obvious thing, the book always mentioned Pearl describing her and May speaking Wu dialect. It's academically correct that people in Shanghai speaking a dialect belongs to Wu dialect. But absolutely no one in Shanghai, now, or several decades ago, will self describe as speaking Wu dialect. People in Shanghai always refer the language as Shanghainese or Shanghai Hua, as people living there consider Shanghai as a distinct culture and life different than people and life outside of Shanghai city boundary. Kind of how New Yorkers regard themseves in US. When people talk about Wu, it normally refer to Suzhou dialect specifically, or Wuxi dialect, two cities about 50 and 65 miles west of Shanghai. For that, I can only give it a 3 stars rating as it does not really let me feel that the 'Shanghai Girls' are really from Shanghai.

  • A story with too much in it
    From Amazon

    This story had too much in it - too many plots, storylines, ideas and historical facts, and in the end, I found a story that never delivered on intriguing the reader to know more about the the characters or situations they found themselves in. Incident happens....brief description...on to the next incident/event....brief description....and so on. As for the 2 main characters - May and Pearl - highly unlikeable and annoying. I can't find many redeeming qualities in either of them and they are meant to be incredibly close, but fail to discuss major events in their lives with each other? Another character, Joy, is written in similar vein - annoying, self centered and unlikeable. Nothing really good happens to them in the book - so prepare yourself for continual hardship and complaints. The ending also will no doubt disappoint many (it did me). Maybe there is a sequel coming to Shanghai Girls, but I certainly would not read it, nor recommend anyone to do likewise.

  • One of the best books I read for 2009
    From Amazon

    Great book the author gets you on the first page... everyone I have recommended it to said they did not want the story to end....hope there will be a sequel..

  • A Sisterly Bond
    From Amazon

    "There is no simple way to comment upon this extraordinary tale. It is part `Tess of the D'urbervilles' and part `Memoir of a Geisha'. I initially wondered why I was spending my time engaged in the story when every episode of change in the days of Pearl and May was fraught with one egregious act after the next bit of injustice. And the men! There were no men to stand up for them. Their lives were a wretched horror. But then I noticed something to give me hope and continue on. These two, though very different in appearance and temperament and outlook were sisters in the purest sense. They fought for each other; they fought against each other. They argued. They cried. They rejoiced. They shared life. And despite the reality that life can often be harsh and unfair, they never let it alter who they were - true Shaghhai Girls. This is a wonderful story of triumph."

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