Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Book Review: Shanghai Girls by Lisa See


One of my favorite books from recent years is Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See. I recommend this book all the time - to library patrons, friends, family members, people who read my blog and complete strangers. So I was jumping for joy when Lisa See's newest book, Shanghai Girls, was in a recent box of new books that came into the library. I didn't even know See had a new book coming out. Yippee!! Feels like Christmas!

Before I get to the meat of the story, I have to comment on the cover of this book. It is an absolute work of art. This is probably the most beautiful cover I have ever seen on any book. I love the soft color palette, the 1940's feel of the painting (?), the soft focus used on the girls' faces vs. the sharper focus of their clothing. Just gorgeous. The jacked art is credited to FormAsia Books, Hong Kong. Not sure what that is, but I'm going to check it out as soon as I'm done with this review.

Shanghai Girls tells the story of two sisters, Pearl and May, who live in the very sophisticated and "westernized" city of Shanghai in the late 1930s. Pearl and May come from a prosperous family and live a glamorous life full of excitement. This all comes to an abrupt end when their father gambles away the family's wealth and rickshaw business. In order to pay off his debts, he must sell his daughters as wives to two young brothers who have traveled to Shanghai from California to find Chinese brides. Pearl and May seem to go along with this plan, but they have no intention of fulfilling this contract made by their father. Everything changes, however, when the Japanese begin bombing Shanghai and Pearl and May must leave Shanghai in order to survive.

After a harrowing and life changing journey through war-torn China, the two sisters eventually find their way to Los Angeles and their husbands' family. Over the years Pearl and May make lives for themselves in California with their new family. But, through all their trials and for all their lives they remain devoted to each other as sisters.

Shanghai Girls illuminates a period of history that I previously didn't know much about. Learning about the experiences of Chinese immigrants living in California during the McCarthy era was illuminating for me. As was learning about the lives of the immigrants living in Chinatown and how they came to be in America. Fascinating. The story of Pearl and May and their experiences as wealthy Shanghai Girls, as refugees, as newly arrived immigrants, as new brides and finally as women who have built lives for themselves in the US was also interesting. Overall, Shanghai Girls is a good, solid story. It wasn't amazing. It wasn't a book I'll stop strangers on the street to tell them about. On the other hand, if someone was looking forward to or was interested in reading it, I wouldn't discourage them.

I would give it 3+ STARS (I liked it+).

Images from Google Images

16 comments:

Tammy Howard said...

Sounds pretty good! And you're right, that is a gorgeous cover. I'll have to look into Snow Flower and the Secret Fan...

Anita said...

I never read Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, but I know many people have told me about me. I enjoy books that have a historical quality, ones that take me to a time that I may know little about.
I agree with you about the cover, it's beautiful, and I had the same feeling about a 40's era painting. Thanks for the review Pam.

Anonymous said...

Pam,

The cover is gorgeous! I just bought this book for my niece who loved Snow Flower and the Secrect Fan, (which I also bought for her after I read it and loved it), so I am happy that you have given it a good review. I will have to ask her to borrow the book when she is done with it, it sounds worth reading.

It's also nice to know you seem to be on a "good book" roll....I hope it continues.

Colleen

Alex the Girl said...

Great Review. Although I'm more of a Science Fantasy type of girl, I've slipped into the other side many a time. This sounds like a very good read...or a really good review from you...maybe both! I'll keep an eye out for it espcially now that I'm bookless.

Pam said...

Colleen - Shanghai Girls is worth reading. It's not as good as SNow Flower, but I'm sure you and your niece will enjoy it.

Alex - If you like Science Fantasy you should check out the Book Blog Directory I linked to a few days ago. Many of those blogs deal exclusively with that genre. You will find lots of books to choose from.

C said...

Wow, you're right Pam, that's a beautiful cover! And it makes me wonder about my desire for a Kindle...will it be the same in black and white on an electric screen? Such dilemmas! You'll have to give me your verdict when your Kindle arrives!

valentine said...

i love the cover! it is absolutely gorgeous, definintely eye catching.

i have enjoyed a few other books in this genre so i think i might give this one a try. thanks for your wonderful review!

Pam said...

C - I know! No wonderful cover art to appreciate. One more reason why I think I will feel that the whole "experience" of reading will be diminished using a Kindle. I still haven't received it yet. But, I defintitely will be keeping you all up to date!

valentine - If this is not your favorite genre, I'd suggest trying Snow Flower and The Secret Fan first. It is the better of the two books.

kel said...

I've got this one coming up soon!!! love the cover!! and awesome review, as usual!!!

Angela said...

Thanks for your comment on my blog :)

I am always looking for a good book, so I'll have to check these ones out! I skipped the middle two paragraphs of your post in case you gave anything away.

Pam said...

Angela - No worries. I never reveal more than the publisher does on the book jacket. If I do, I always post a big, red Spoilers Ahead Warning. Hope you find a book here that appeals to you.

Debbie said...

I really liked her other books - especially Snow Flower. This is on my TBR list. Thanks for the review.

Kathy B! said...

You're right. The cover art really is gorgeous. The book itself sounds wonderful as well. I have a list of boos "to-read" that is growing ridiculously long because of you!!

Kay said...

Great review! I am going to add this to my "want to read" list!

thatgirlblogs said...

thanks for reviewing this -- it's been on my list of things to read, I will try to pick it up this weekend.

Unknown Mami said...

Your review made it sound quite interesting. I love books that expose me to history that I am unfamiliar with and I particularly enjoy immigrant stories.

 

Blog Design By Lindsey Joy Design © All Rights Reserved.