Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Shanghai Girls by Lisa See

Shanghai Girls is the eagerly anticipated new novel by Lisa See, the author of Snow Flower and the Secret Fan.

The novel follows two sisters, Pearl and May, through the years 1937-1957. They are in Shanghai for the Second Sino-Japanese War and the Shanghai Battle, and end up escaping Shanghai to emigrate to the United States to meet their husbands from arranged marriages. Upon arrival in the United States, they are interned at Angel Island with other Chinese immigrant women. When they are finally granted entrance to America, they then face the Chinese Exclusion Act and McCarthyism. I found this story to be a really interesting look at a dark period in American history. It made me want to check out some of the sources listed in the Acknowledgements section to learn more. In her usual fashion, See incorporated her research so well into the story that you become completely immersed in the time period and setting.

Shanghai Girls is similar to Snow Flower and the Secret Fan in that it explores the role of women in culture and the relationship between two women. Being sisters instead of friends, Pearl and May are best friends and rivals, and the novel describes the ups and downs of their relationship. This relationship is tested throughout the book as Pearl and May adjust to the transition from educated and successful women in Shanghai to immigrants in the United States who are constantly under suspicion by the government. Being women, they are further subjected to the whims of the men in their family.

While I enjoyed Shanghai Girls, the ending is quite abrupt and leaves you wondering what is going to happen to the sisters. I'm holding out hope that See is planning to write a sequel to tie up some loose ends.

Search the catalog for all of Lisa See's novels. If you enjoy reading Chinese American fiction that focuses on relationships between women, check out Amy Tan's novels.

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