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Shanghai Girls by Lisa See
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3,2362581,719 (3.81)255
  1. 20
    Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok (terran)
    terran: Chinese Americans, Mother and daughters, Family, Poverty, Immigrants
  2. 03
    Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford (tahcastle)
    tahcastle: Both novels illustrated the discrimination in the United States, of Japanese during the war and of the Chinese after the war.

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Shanghai Girls by Lisa See worked for me on two levels. First, it is a fascinating picture of the Chinese immigrants who arrived in America during the Japanese invasion of China (1937 - 1945) and were in the United States during World War II and the rise to power of the Communist government under Mao Zedon. Like so many immigrants to America, the Chinese Americans were treated like second class citizens. The people who did not have official citizenship lived in fear of deportation much as the undocumented Mexican immigrants do today. But the Chinese situation was even worse because of the Bamboo Curtain around their homeland.

The story starts in Shanghai where two sisters, Pearl and May, are living a fairly opulent lifestyle. They are known as Beautiful Girls due to their roles as calendar models for Z.G., a Shanghai artist whose art is used to sell products. But circumstances change for them for reasons that are a combination of bad decisions by their father and the disaster of the war overtaking Shanghai. Shanghai was known as the “Paris of the East” prior to the war. So the change Lisa See shows in her work is about the city as well as the individuals who live there.

The plot eventually switches to America where we get a picture of Angel Island in San Francisco Bay where some three hundred thousand immigrants entered the United States and also what life was like for the Chinese once they were living in America.

But the plot isn't just about culture and discrimination. It's also about the relationship of two sisters. It's about their jealousy and competition, but also their constant love. See tells her story from Pearl's point of view, but she manages to guide her readers to an understanding of the feelings of May and the other characters even when Pearl doesn't have a clue.

I listened to the audio version of this book, narrated by Janet Song. Her voice and emotions were perfect for the story.

Steve Lindahl – author of Motherless Soul and White Horse Regressions ( )
  SteveLindahl | Mar 31, 2015 |
Definitivamente, el libro más flojo que he leído de Lisa See: menos original que El pabellón de las peonías (que me sorprendió mucho. No siempre para bien, pero sorprendente era) y mucho menos evocador que El abanico de seda. No tenía más expectativas que entretenerme, que es lo que le pido a esta autora, pero lo cierto es que al final he disfrutado de Dos chicas de Shanghai. Tenemos un punto de partida un poco pobre: una protagonista poco carismática (a ratos medio boba) que vive situaciones más dramáticas que la protagonista de una mala telenovela por la combinación de vivir en un periodo histórico dificil y su incapacidad de enterarse de nada de lo que la rodeaba. Mi pensamiento constante era "¿Quién dijo que los idiotas no tenían derecho a contar su historia?". Sin darme cuenta devoré la novela, y esto ya es un punto positivo, pero además, mejoró muchísimo en el final. Desde mi punto de vista, los capítulos finales son brillantes, y un buen cierre para aquellos lectores que disfruten los finales agridulces y abiertos.
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  L0r0 | Mar 22, 2015 |
In 1937 Shanghai—the Paris of Asia—twenty-one-year-old Pearl Chin and her younger sister, May, are having the time of their lives. Both are beautiful, modern, and carefree—until the day their father tells them that he has gambled away their wealth. To repay his debts, he must sell the girls as wives to suitors who have traveled from Los Angeles to find Chinese brides. As Japanese bombs fall on their beloved city, Pearl and May set out on the journey of a lifetime, from the Chinese countryside to the shores of America. Though inseparable best friends, the sisters also harbor petty jealousies and rivalries. Along the way they make terrible sacrifices, face impossible choices, and confront a devastating, life-changing secret, but through it all the two heroines of this astounding new novel hold fast to who they are—Shanghai girls. ( )
  camtb | Jan 8, 2015 |
It's best to read Shanghai Girls with intent to pick up its sequel, Dreams of Joy, immediately after. The two books tell a complete story of young women on journey from Republic of China’s Shanghai to 1940s America and then back into Communist China during the Fifties. What makes the tale so captivating is the depth of history woven throughout. During my reading I kept a notepad of phrases and historical events to research since so much of it happened before my generation and was not taught in history classes when I was in school. Yet this is what makes author Lisa See’s books so readable: there is more information than you can possibly remember but she makes it all come alive by placing her characters in the midst of each historical event. And she does it seamlessly. Of the two novels, Shanghai Girls is the better story simply because its protagonist, Pearl, is the most well-drawn character, but Dreams of Joy speaks the most toward Red China and the devastation experienced by villagers during Mao’s Great Leap Forward. Both books are fine history lessons, but more than that, they are incredibly compelling stories.

Start with this book and move right into Dreams of Joy as soon as you turn the final page. ( )
  phrenetic.mind | Dec 30, 2014 |
TOP 10 LIST (personal list)... A wonderful book, with plenty of Chinese cultural history, to lose yourself in. Very hard to put down, so I recommend choosing a time to read this one when you have time to savor this literary entree. A book of sisterhood, and the wonderful and sorrowful experiences this unique bond brings about. Extremely highly recommended.
-Doc Aloha Reviews

Review to be imported ( )
  Doc_Aloha | Oct 8, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 257 (next | show all)
Lisa See’s “Shanghai Girls” is much loftier than its cover art’s stunning portrait of beautifully adorned Asian women. The author of “Snow Flower and the Secret Fan” has written a broadly sweeping tale...
Things are getting catty again in the Shanghai literary scene!
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For my cousin Leslee Leong, my cohort in memory keeping.
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'Our daughter looks like a South China peasant with those red cheeks,' my father complains, pointedly ignoring the soup before him. 'Can't you do something about them?'
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0812980530, Paperback)

Book Description
For readers of the phenomenal bestsellers Snow Flower and the Secret Fan and Peony in Love--a stunning new novel from Lisa See about two sisters who leave Shanghai to find new lives in 1930s Los Angeles.

May and Pearl, two sisters living in Shanghai in the mid-1930s, are beautiful, sophisticated, and well-educated, but their family is on the verge of bankruptcy. Hoping to improve their social standing, May and Pearl’s parents arrange for their daughters to marry “Gold Mountain men” who have come from Los Angeles to find brides.

But when the sisters leave China and arrive at Angel’s Island (the Ellis Island of the West)--where they are detained, interrogated, and humiliated for months--they feel the harsh reality of leaving home. And when May discovers she’s pregnant the situation becomes even more desperate. The sisters make a pact that no one can ever know.

A novel about two sisters, two cultures, and the struggle to find a new life in America while bound to the old, Shanghai Girls is a fresh, fascinating adventure from beloved and bestselling author Lisa See.

Amazon Exclusive: Lisa See on Shanghai Girls

I’m writing this on a plane to Shanghai. For the last couple of weeks I’ve been thinking about all the things I want to see and do on this research trip: look deeper into the Art Deco movement in Shanghai, visit a 17th-century house in a village of 300 people to observe the Sweeping the Graves Festival, and check out some old theaters in Beijing. But as I sit on the plane, I’m not thinking of the adventures that are ahead but of the people and places I’ve left behind. I’ve been gone from home only a few hours and already I’m homesick!

This puts me in mind of Pearl and May, the characters in Shanghai Girls. This feeling--longing for home and missing the people left behind--is at the heart of the novel. We live in a nation of immigrants. We all have someone in our families who was brave enough, scared enough, or crazy enough to leave the home country to come to America. I’m a real mutt in terms of ancestry, but I know that the Chinese side of my family left China because they were fleeing war, famine, and poverty. They were lured to America in hopes of a better life, but leaving China also meant saying goodbye to the homes they’d been born in, to their parents, brothers, and sisters, and to everything and everyone they knew. This experience is the blood and tears of American experience.

Pearl and May are lucky, because they come to America together. They’re sisters and they have each other. I’ve always wanted to write about sisters and I finally got my chance with Shanghai Girls. You could say that either I’m an only child or that I’m one of four sisters, because I have a former step-sister I’ve known for over 50 years and two half-sisters from different halves who I’ve known since they were born. Is Shanghai Girls autobiographical? Not really, but my sister Katharine and I once had a fight that was like the flour fight that May and Pearl got into when they were girls. And there was an ice cream incident that I used in the novel that sent my sister Clara right down memory lane when she read the manuscript. I’m also the eldest, and we all know what that means. I’m the one who’s supposed to be the bossy know-it-all. (But if that’s true, then why are they the ones who are always right?) What I know is that we’re very different from each other and our life experiences couldn’t be more varied, and yet we have a deep emotional connection that goes way beyond friendship. My sisters knew me when I was a shy little kid, helped me survive my first broken heart, share the memories of bad family car trips, and were at my side for the happiest moments in my life. More recently, we’ve begun to share things like the loss of our childhood homes, the changing of the neighborhoods we grew up in, and the frailties and illnesses of our myriad parents.

My emotions and experiences are deeply entwined with the stories I write. So as I fly over the Pacific, of course I’m thinking about May and Pearl, the people and places they left behind, the hopes and dreams that kept them moving forward, and the strength and solace they found in each other, but I’m thinking about myself too. As soon as I get to the hotel, I’m going to call my husband and sons to tell them I arrived safely, and then I’m going to send some e-mails to my sisters.--Lisa See

(Photo © Patricia Williams)

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:23:16 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

Forced to leave Shanghai when their father sells them to California suitors, sisters May and Pearl struggle to adapt to life in 1930s Los Angeles while still bound to old customs, as they face discrimination and confront a life-altering secret.

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