Shanghai Girls is the first book I read by Lisa See, and I think it will stay that way for a long time. It took me so long to read that I felt like I was punishing myself. I insist that I will read the books I started. But from now on, I won’t. Life is too short. I would have abandoned this book before halfway through. Still, I am fortunate to have such a habit and finished this book. Even though the characters’ and my circumstances are entirely different, I found myself in the story because, at the time, I was trying to live in a foreign country.
Shanghai Girls begins when two sisters, Pearl and May, left their lives in peace and luxury and their country to pay off their father’s debts. While the Japanese attack Shanghai, they reach America without overcoming the trauma of what happened to them. However, the way they live on their way to America and at the border also ultimately affects their future. It is a heartbreaking story, but it manages to be hopeful as well.
As they escape from a terrible past and move towards the future that looks even more terrifying, Pearl and May find themselves living different lives in the same house. They have their differences, but they are very fond of each other; they have a sisterly bond. In the further parts of the book, these differences are resolved with jealousy and misunderstanding. Shanghai Girls is an average book. Is it worth the time? Well, there are dozens of beautiful books out there, so I don’t think it is. If you are particularly interested in immigration stories, you may like Shanghai Girls. But it is not a book that I can recommend to many people.
Pearl and May are sisters, living carefree lives in Shanghai, the Paris of Asia. But when Japanese bombs fall on their beloved city, they set out on the journey of a lifetime, one that will take them through the Chinese countryside, in and out of the clutch of brutal soldiers, and across the Pacific to the shores of America. And starts Shanghai Girls.
In 1937, Shanghai is the Paris of Asia, a city of great wealth and glamour, the home of millionaires and beggars, gangsters and gamblers, patriots and revolutionaries, artists and warlords. Thanks to the financial security and material comforts provided by their father’s prosperous rickshaw business, twenty-one-year-old Pearl Chin and her younger sister, May, are having the time of their lives.
Though both sisters wave off authority and tradition, they couldn’t be more different: Pearl is a Dragon sign, strong and stubborn, while May is a true Sheep, adorable and placid. Both are beautiful, modern, and carefree . . . until the day their father tells them that he has gambled away their wealth and that in order to repay his debts he must sell the girls as wives to suitors who have traveled from California to find Chinese brides.
As Japanese bombs fall on their beloved city, Pearl and May set out on the journey of a lifetime, one that will take them through the Chinese countryside, in and out of the clutch of brutal soldiers, and across the Pacific to the shores of America. In Los Angeles they begin a fresh chapter, trying to find love with the strangers they have married, brushing against the seduction of Hollywood, and striving to embrace American life even as they fight against discrimination, brave Communist witch hunts, and find themselves hemmed in by Chinatown’s old ways and rules.
In her beloved New York Times bestsellers Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane, Peony in Love, Shanghai Girls, Dreams of Joy, and China Dolls, Lisa See has brilliantly illuminated the strong bonds between women. These books have been celebrated for their authentic, deeply researched, lyrical stories about Chinese characters and cultures. Now, in The Island of Sea Women, Ms. See writes about the free-diving women of South Korea’s Jeju Island.
Booklist called The Island of Sea Women“stupendous… enthralling…and engrossing.” Jodi Picoult has given her praise: “Lisa See excels at mining the intersection of family, friendship and history, and in her newest novel, she reaches new depths exploring the matrifocal haenyeo society in Korea, caught between tradition and modernization.
This novel spans wars and generations, but at its heart is a beautifully rendered story of two women whose individual choices become inextricably tangled.” Independent booksellers honored the novel by selecting it as an Indie Next pick, while Barnes & Noble chose the novel for its nationwide March 2019 Book Club.
Ms. See has always been intrigued by stories that have been lost, forgotten, or deliberately covered up, whether in the past or happening right now in the world today. For Snow Flower, she traveled to a remote area of China—where she was told she was only the second foreigner ever to visit—to research the secret writing invented, used, and kept a secret by women for over a thousand years.
Amy Tan called the novel “achingly beautiful, a marvel of imagination.” Others agreed, and foreign-language rights for Snow Flower were sold to 39 countries. The novel also became a New York Timesbestseller, a Booksense Number One Pick, has won numerous awards domestically and internationally, and was made into a feature film produced by Fox Searchlight.
Ms. See was born in Paris but grew up in Los Angeles. She lived with her mother but spent a lot of time with her father’s family in Chinatown. Her first book, On Gold Mountain: The One Hundred Year Odyssey of My Chinese-American Family(1995), was a national bestseller and a New York TimesNotable Book. The book traces the journey of Lisa’s great-grandfather, Fong See, who overcame obstacles at every step to become the 100-year-old godfather of Los Angeles’s Chinatown and the patriarch of a sprawling family.
While collecting the details for On Gold Mountain, she developed the idea for her first novel, Flower Net (1997), which was a national bestseller, a New York TimesNotable Book, and on the Los Angeles TimesBest Books List for 1997. Flower Netwas also nominated for an Edgar award for best first novel. This was followed by two more mystery-thrillers, The Interior (2000) and Dragon Bones (2003), which once again featured the characters of Liu Hulan and David Stark. This series inspired critics to compare Ms. See to Upton Sinclair, Dashiell Hammett, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
Ms. See has led an active and varied career. She was the Publishers WeeklyWest Coast Correspondent for thirteen years. As a freelance journalist, her articles have appeared in Vogue, Self, and More, as well as in numerous book reviews around the country. She wrote the libretto for Los Angeles Opera based on On Gold Mountain, which premiered in June 2000 at the Japan American Theatre. She also served as guest curator for an exhibit on the Chinese-American experience at the Autry Museum of Western Heritage, which then traveled to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., in 2001. Ms.
See then helped develop and curate the Family Discovery Gallery at the Autry Museum, an interactive space for children and their families that focused on Lisa’s bi-racial, bi-cultural family as seen through the eyes of her father as a seven-year-old boy living in 1930s Los Angeles. She has designed a walking tour of Los Angeles Chinatown and wrote the companion guidebook for Angels Walk L.A. to celebrate the opening of the MTA’s Chinatown metro station. She also curated the inaugural exhibition—a retrospective of artist Tyrus Wong—for the grand opening of the Chinese American Museum in Los Angeles.
Ms. See was honored as National Woman of the Year by the Organization of Chinese American Women in 2001, was the recipient of the Chinese American Museum’s History Makers Award in 2003, and received the Golden Spike Award from the Chinese Historical Society of Southern California in 2017. She sits on the boards of Los Angeles Opera, National Historic Preservation Trust, and The Music Center. She is a member of The Trusteeship, an organization comprised of preeminent women of achievement and influence in diverse fields.
Reading this book contributed to these challenges: