Lisa See's Shanghai Girls is much loftier than its cover art's stunning portrait....The author of Snow Flower and the Secret Fan has written a broadly sweeping tale that opens in Shangai in 1937. he detail is thoughtful and intricate in ways that hardly qualify ththis book as the stuff of chick lit.
Janet Maslin - New York Times
Examining the chains of friendship within the confines of family, See’s kaleidoscopic saga transits from the barbaric horrors of Japanese occupation to the sobering indignities suffered by foreigners in 1930s Hollywood while offering a buoyant and lustrous paean to the bonds of sisterhood.
See (Snow Flower; Peony in Love) explores tradition, the ravages of war and the importance of family in her excellent latest. Pearl and her younger sister, May, enjoy an upper-crust life in 1930s Shanghai, until their father reveals that his gambling habit has decimated the family's finances and to make good on his debts, he has sold both girls to a wealthy Chinese-American as wives for his sons. Pearl and May have no intention of leaving home, but after Japanese bombs and soldiers ravage their city and both their parents disappear, the sisters head for California, where their husbands-to-be live and where it soon becomes apparent that one of them is hiding a secret that will alter each of their fates. As they adjust to marriage with strangers and the challenges of living in a foreign land, Pearl and May learn that long-established customs can provide comfort in unbearable times. See's skillful plotting and richly drawn characters immediately draw in the reader, covering 20 years of love, loss, heartbreak and joy while delivering a sobering history lesson. While the ending is ambiguous, this is an accomplished and absorbing novel.
In prewar 1930s Shanghai, carefree sisters Pearl Chin and younger, prettier May are the "beautiful girls" whose images on posters beckon viewers to buy products. They openly scoff at their parents' superstitious, old-world ways, but they soon learn that the good life is but an illusion. The Japanese army's brutal invasion of the city makes their lives as beautiful girls impossible. Their businessman father loses everything to the ruthless mob, and to pay off his debts he forces his daughters into arranged marriages to Chinese men living in the United States. See is masterly in her powerful depictions of the prejudice and harsh treatment the sisters encounter as they try to assimilate into the strange new world of Los Angeles. Possibly the best book yet from the author of Peony in Love; highly recommended.
Two sisters escape war-ravaged Shanghai, only to face discrimination and the threat of deportation in the United States. See's latest fictional exploration of the lives of Chinese women begins in 1937 Shanghai, a cosmopolitan city under imminent threat of Japanese invasion. As oblivious to rumors of their beloved city's collapse as they are to their family's circumstances, Pearl Chin and her younger sister May continue to shop, frequent nightclubs and pose for illustrator Z.G.'s advertising calendars featuring "Beautiful Girls." However, Papa Chin, having lost his fortune to gambling debts, has sold his daughters into marriage to Sam and Vern, sons of Chinese-American entrepreneur Old Man Louie. After hasty weddings (only Pearl's union, with Sam, is consummated), the brides refuse to accompany their husbands to California. When Shanghai is bombed and Papa abruptly disappears, the women and their mother join the stream of refugees fleeing the Japanese on foot. Along the way, Pearl and her mother are brutally raped by Japanese soldiers, while May hides. Their mother does not survive, but the Chins reach Hong Kong and embark for the United States, having decided, in desperation, to join their husbands. At San Francisco's notorious Angel Island immigrant-internment center, May, pregnant by a boyfriend, prolongs the sisters' already extended quarantine until she is able to give birth in secrecy. Pearl claims May's daughter Joy as her own and Sam's. Once reunited with their spouses in L.A.'s Chinese district, the former Shanghai princesses must acclimatize themselves to a life of drudgery, toiling in the Louie family's curio shops and restaurants. Despite engrossing complications involving immigration issues and the impact of the '50s Red Scare on Chinese-Americans, the Chinatown section, spanning 20 years, seems overlong. The final chapters, however, wherein Z.G.'s Beautiful Girl artwork resurfaces as Maoist propaganda and the FBI stalks the family, are worth the wait. The close suggests See's next setting may be the People's Republic, a development sure to please her readership.
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