Shanghai Girls: A Novel by Lisa See (Random House, 2009), 336 pages
Pearl and May are sisters, through and through. They’re together in everything, all the time. Having grown up in Shanghai — “the Paris of Asia” — they think of themselves as thoroughly modern and disdain their parents old, traditional ways. They pose for calendar photos and paintings. And then what they thought impossible happens. They’re forced into a life they had rejected.
While on the surface, this book purports to be about beautiful girls, immigrating to the United States, Chinatown (Los Angeles) and family, in reality these things are just the stage for a tale of sibling rivalry, secrets, fear, pain, delusion. It’s tragic. Dark.
The story is vividly drawn, the history, the characters and the backdrop. It was a good book, but I didn’t enjoy it much. The book contains some brutal scenes. And while I didn’t love reading these, I didn’t really struggle. They’re surely accurate, even appropriate to include. What I didn’t like was how the characters reacted.
I went back and forth, at one point thinking the writing helped ease the pain of the narrative and at others thinking the writing exacerbated the tragedy for the reader.
In my head I was yelling at the main character probably 50 percent of the time (or more). The rest of the time I was yelling at some other character.
I didn’t love the role (however minor) that religion played in the book.
I enjoyed this book more than you’d think from reading this. I wonder, though: If Lisa See hadn’t tried for such a long tale, in terms of time encompassed, would some of the pieces be more fleshed out, more fully realized? I understand that this is contrary to some of what she was aiming for with this book, but I still wonder.
About the author
Lisa See is the author of Snow Flower and the Secret Fan and Peony in Love. Her Flower Net was an Edgar Award nominee — I had no idea she wrote mysteries! After Flower Net come Interior and Dragon Bones. Her memoir is On Gold Mountain. She lives in Los Angeles.
Check out the rest of the TLC Book Tour stops for Shanghai Girls by Lisa See.
Other reviews (most of which are more positive than this one)
She Is Too Fond of Books
Devourer of Books
Books on the Brain
Peeking between the Pages
A Guy’s Moleskine Notebook
S. Krishna’s Books
A Novel Menagerie
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The publisher has offered 2 copies of the book as giveaways (U.S./Canada only) to my readers! Comment here about the book (or my review) for a chance to win.
The giveaway will end next Thursday, January 28, when I’ll randomly select a winner.
I received this book from the publisher, as part of the TLC book tour.
Edited to add: This giveaway is now closed, winners has been chosen.