Reading Aloud: Shanghai Girls

Shanghai Girls (2009)
Written by Lisa See

I have always loved Asian culture. It’s probably because I’m Asian… and I have no idea what its like there so I look to books to grasp some idea of where I come from. I’m not of Chinese descent like Lisa See. In fact, she’s only eighth Chinese, barely tied to the bloodline, but that doesn’t really matter. Even though I look more “Oriental,” See is certainly more Asian in her soul than I will ever be. You can recognize her love for China, its people, and its traditions.

In Shanghai Girls, See’s artful writing transports you to the glamorous port city of Shanghai (duh), where two beautiful sisters, Pearl and May Chin, enjoy their bourgeoise status among beggars and bandits. The girls live a wonderful, carefree lifestyle–they go shopping for the latest fashions, socialize with artists and intellectuals, and model for calendars as “beautiful girls” (Pearl and May wear gorgeous outfits and pose together to advertise the latest products).

Then everything changes when their father gambles away his rickshaw business and the Chin family becomes dirt poor and in debt to a powerful gang. In an effort to save himself and his wife, the father sells Pearl and May as Chinese brides. Just when things can’t get any worse for the sisters, the Japanese are invading China and reeking havoc upon their precious city. Suddenly, Whatever Pearl and May used to see as perfect is now burned to the ground and continues to crumble, along with any hope of finding an escape from dim fates.

Pearl and May learn to endure unimaginable hardships to survive the chaos in China and the poverty in Los Angeles. Through it all, the two sisters stay together and their bond proves to be unbreakable, although at times they may fight over worthless issues.

Also the author of Snow Flower and the Secret Fan and Peony in Love, See captures what it means to keep living and what matters most in times of darkness.

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A Francophile based in coastal New England

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