Friday, July 24, 2009

Shanghai Girls by Lisa See

I'm starting to feel really guilty because I read Lisa See's Shanghai Girls and somehow never managed to review it. After a few weeks, I figured enough other folks had reviewed it that my review would just be redundant and unnecessary especially since I was well on my way to forgetting most of the finer details. Then, I thought, hey, not only am I punking out on Random House which so nicely sent me this ARC when I was truly dying to have it, but I'm also screwing myself by not writing a review of a book that would count for not one but two challenges. With that plus the fact that I quite enjoyed the book in mind, I will now attempt to call forth my scant memories to compose a nice half-baked review.

Shanghai Girls is the tale of two sisters, Pearl and May Chin, who work as beautiful girls in pre-war Shanghai. As beautiful girls, they pose for various paintings that become advertisements and calendars, and because of their career, they enjoy a good deal of prestige and freedom. Soon, though, their glory days come to an end as war begins to sweep through their beloved Shanghai at the same time as their father is forced to sell the girls as brides to the sons of a man to whom he owes a large gambling debt. Despite their wishes to remain independent, forces beyond their control demand that they flee Shanghai and embark on the dangerous trip to America to join their husbands who are virtual strangers to them. On arrival they will find both less and more than they could have expected and learn to live with their own secrets and heartbreaks in the process.

Despite owning several of See's much praised other novels, Shanghai Girls is the first of her works that I've actually read. I was not disappointed. See's Shanghai leaps off the page both in its glamour and modernity and its poverty and squalor. She captures its melting pot diversity that results from the many contries dividing the city amongst themsevles as well as the unfortunate underside of its rapid growth. At See's whim we can be either awed or disgusted by the city depending on what the situation demands.

Pearl and May are the most captivating of characters. Their sisterly relationship is excellently rendered in that sometimes they seem to actively dislike each other, but when the chips are down, they are utterly loving and loyal to each other. As they face the reality of life with their strict new in-laws and husbands who they've known for all of one day, it is their evident love for each other that strengthens them and keeps them afloat as they face the many challenges that rise up to meet them in Los Angeles.

See's writing is easy to read and has such an admirable flow that Shanghai Girls proves to be hard to put down. My only minor quibble would be with the ending. It was so abrupt and unexpected that I actually turned the last page totally ignorant that it was the last page. I was sure the story had plenty enough steam to go another few chapters at least and felt a bit left hanging by the unexpected ending. Other than that, however, I was really quite thrilled with Shanghai Girls and look forward to reading more of See's work.

Read other reviews at...

A Guy's Moleskine Notebook
S. Krishna's Books
Books and Cooks


  1. I really want to read this, and I'm glad you wrote your take on it, Megan. I try not to worry too much about reviewing books everyone else has reviewed because I figure we all bring our own individual approach to them. That's why I subscribe to 200+ book blogs and have yet to tire of any :P

  2. Great review. I'm really anxious to read this book!

  3. I am glad you decided to review this one. :-) I have heard other complaints about the ending of the book. I am really looking forward to reading this. I enjoyed Snow Flower and the Secret Fan and have both this and Peony in Love in my TBR room.

  4. I really liked this story, but Snowflower and the Secret Fan remains my favorite.

  5. I am very excited about reading this one when my library finally gets it!

  6. I totally need to read this, now that I've finally read Snow Flower. Thanks for the reminder to get off my lazy rear and pick up a copy!

  7. Since I first saw this on the shelf I've been wanting to read it. I've never read anything by See, but I've heard such positive things and it's such a lovely cover... Thanks for your opinion!

  8. Didn't think of Lisa See as someone to write a sequel. Snow Flower and the Secret Fan was an excellent novel.