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Friday, June 26, 2009

Shanghai Girls by Lisa See

May and Pearl Chin are Beautiful Girls which in 1930's Shanghai means that they are models, a somewhat scandalous thing for their traditional parents but they are indulgent parents as well. They are also the daughters of a man who is wealthy enough to have several servants, the owner of a rickshaw business. They barely tolerate the traditional Chinese belief of their parents. They are modern girls and spend their time modeling, going to parties, and buying clothes. They do not even seem to notice the squalor and misery that is so much a part of Shanghai, even to the point of stepping over dead babies lying in the street without so much as a thought about them.
Then everything falls apart and they are sold in order to pay off their father's debts. They are sold to a man with sons who need wives. They marry the 2 sons who then return to their home in America while Pearl and May remain in China for a few weeks. They purposely miss the ship to America and so are still in China when the Japanese invade. Their lives are turned completely upside down. They must struggle and depend on each other as they try to find a way to get to America to be with their husbands.
Once in America, their problems continue as they fight with immigration officials who think that they have married illegal immigrants. They finally are reunited with their husbands whom they barely know. They struggle to assimilate to their new situation in a new country.
The book takes them from Shanghai in the 1930's with the invasion of Japan, through WWII where they were proud to be enemies of Japan and fight for America, to the overtaking of China by Mao Tse Tung and the communists and the extreme fear of communism in the U.S. in the 1950's.
I thought that the book was well-written and took us right into the lives of traditional and sturdy Pearl and glamorous and spoiled May. Written from Pearl's perspective, I felt that I understood her much more than May. I think that I would like to have gotten to know May and some of the other characters better, and I would have like even more descriptions about their lives, especially what it was like for them to live in America yet still be Chinese culturally. All in all, I enjoyed the book although I felt that I was left hanging at the end. There will be a sequel, maybe? A little profanity but not too bad, definitely violence with a rape and a bombing, and definitely adult situations make this book rated PG-16.

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