Author: Lisa See
Publisher: Random House
My Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Shanghai Girls tells the story of Pearl and May, two sisters living a privileged life in Shanghai when their world is turned upside down by their father’s gambling and the Japanese invasion of China. The girls make a tumultuous journey together through China to escape the Japanese threat and to meet up with their new husbands through arranged marriages. Eventually, Pearl and May end up in America where they make a new, modest beginning and work hard to make a good life for themselves. Though the book is not perfect, it is an excellent commentary on the immigrant experience in mid-20th century America.
I have been waiting to read this book for a few years. I am not sure why I didn’t pick it up sooner, but when the opportunity finally presented itself I jumped at the chance to read it. For some reason, I am drawn to novels about the Asian experience. I have to say that while I enjoyed the book, I had a little trouble caring for Pearl and May. Because they lived such a privileged life, I felt like their reaction to the change they experienced was written well, but it made them kind of unlikeable. For about two-thirds of the book I felt like I just didn’t like either Pearl or May very much, but as time went on and through adversity their character grew, they became women that I began to admire. After thinking about it for a week, I think that Lisa See’s writing was masterful because of this. When a writer can make me actually dislike their characters and then come full circle by the end, I think that is just effective writing!
The part of the book I most enjoyed was Pearl, May, and their family’s experience as immigrants to America. The immigrant experience (especially for the Chinese) in post-WWII must have been difficult when Mao Tse Tung came to power. Lisa See’s depiction of Pearl and her family was eye opening and very relevant since immigrant issues have become such a major point of contention in the U.S. I know there are many stories of immigrants coming to America to make a better life for themselves, but this was the first one I’ve read that took place and addressed the Red Scare and McCarthyism. It was this aspect of the book that tipped the scales up to a four star book for me. There is inherent value in keeping past stories of the immigrant experience in America alive so that we know our history and see the struggle that people went through to make the United States the country it is today.
The book is perfect for anyone who is looking for a story where the characters experience real growth and for those looking to understand the Chinese immigrant experience in America. After reading Shanghai Girls, I am definitely interested in reading more of Lisa See’s work.
*Note of Disclosure: This book was received for review through Crazy Book Tours.