Friday, June 11, 2010

Shanghai Girls - Lisa See

Shanghai Girls is the story of two sisters, Pearl and May, and their journey from war-torn Shanghai to Los Angeles from 1937-1957. When the story opens, Pearl and May are the spoiled daughters of a seemingly wealthy businessman. They waste their money on stylish clothing and spend their time posing for "beautiful girl" calendars. When their father reveals that he has gambled away the entire family fortune, the girls are married off, and begin the daunting trip to America. The book follows the two sisters as they suffer their own losses in their own ways - and tracks their friendships and betrayals as they learn to navigate their new lives. The story is told from the perspective of Pearl, the older wiser sister. And while she is clearly a biased narrator, she initially came across to me as a somewhat omniscient one - until the story develops more fully in the end and it becomes clear that Pearl has misread the significance of earlier relationships - to the detriment of her own happiness, and her relationship with her sister. Like so many books written about Asian immigrants during this time period, Shanghai Girls is filled with unimaginable sorrow and heartache - but at the same time, it is a beautiful story about family and the strength of the human spirit to perservere despite unimaginable tragedy.

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