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4.4 out of 5 stars
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on 13 September 2013
I read this book while on a world cruise on Cunard. The reading club met once a week and discussed the book. I have never done that before and found quite exciting to be able to give my impression of this book.
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on 13 August 2016
The story unfolds in Shanghai before the arrival of the Japanese and ends after Mao's - 'let a 100 flowers bloom' campaign is announced. It builds on Lisa See's knowledge of the stories and history of the Chinese community in LA in the mid twentieth century. Sad , poignant and interesting as it follows the lives of two sisters Pearl and May as they flee China and arrive to live in USA.
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on 21 February 2009
Shanghai Girls (Random House Large Print (Cloth/Paper))
Lisa's See's new novel, Shanghai Girls, provides a rich experience for its readers - taking them from the splendor, highlife, glamour and poverty of 1937 Shanghai to the struggles of Chinese immigrants to survive a virtual internment on Angel Island, off the coast of San Francisco, to the almost impossible challenges of trying to build a life in Los Angeles Chinatown in the context of an America that does not want them and treats them cruelly.

But despite its rich background, Shanghai Girls is ultimately the story of two sisters - Pearl and May - who desperately strive to help each other survive and at the same time replay in their minds and actions old rivalries, jealousies, and hurts. The summary of the book on See's web site puts it well: "They love each other but they also know exactly where to drive the knife to hurt the other sister the most." This is most dramatically shown in the novel's climax.

Pearl, speaking in first person, is the narrator, taking us from 1937 to 1957. This time period matches Parts IV and V of See's On Gold Mountain: The One-Hundred-Year Odyssey of My Chinese-American Family. The perspectives are different, however. In the memoir See is scrupulously objective in treatment family members, herself, and issues very close to her. Pearl lets us experience some of the same American experiences but from a different perspective and from the inside.
Late in the novel, Pearl reflects: "We're told that men are strong and brave, but I think women know how to endure, accept defeat, and bear physical and mental agony much better than men." This is certainly true of Pearl herself.

Growing up in Shanghai, the Paris of Asia, Pearl and her sister May live lives of privilege. Being a Dragon, Pearl is seen by her parents as a fiery, strong daughter who can take care of her self-absorbed Sheep sister. By the time she is 21, Pearl and May enjoy the status of being Beautiful Girls, Pearl rather insensitive to those who serve her and her wealthy family.

But then Pearl's journey into suffering begins. Her father loses his money in gambling debts and the sisters are forced into arranged marriages. The Japanese attack China and Shanghai is attacked by air and the country invaded. In the process Pearl and her mother are brutalized by Japanese soldiers and her mother is killed.

Having lost everything, Pearl and May are forced to flee to America to find their husbands. Surviving a grueling stay at Angel Island (the Ellis Island of the West), Pearl can only hope that her husband Sam and his family will accept her since she is bringing with her a new born daughter named Joy.

Much of Shanghai Girls centers on Pearl's attempt to adjust to life as a member of the Louie family. While May seeks happiness outside the home in her new country, especially in terms of her many associations with the glitzy world of Hollywood, Pearl sees her life as unending drudgery as she is locked into a routine of cleaning and cooking, working in her father-in-law's various business enterprises, and caring for Joy. In addition, she is largely responsible for caring for Vern, May's young and critically ill husband.

Although her father-in-law gradually comes to include Pearl, May, and Joy as true members of his family, Pearl grows closer to her mother-in-law, and discovers that her lower class husband is indeed an Ox in the truest sense, deeply loving and caring for his family, her new Christian and much older Chinese values are tested by the terrors of the McCarthy era of anti-communism accompanied by serious mistreatment of most Chinese people.

At the end of the novel the two sisters directly confront each other at last, venting all the anger and hurt each has repressed previously. Despite being very angry at May for what Pearl feels are very good reasons, May's attacks and self-defense make her realize that she may have been mistaken in many of her core beliefs over the years.

But finally it is Joy who saves Pearl. When she reaches the point where she will give up everything for Joy, Pearl truly becomes her mother's daughter -- and in the process becomes the Dragon she was meant to be.
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on 1 February 2014
Had to read it only because my reading group is reading the sequel this week - and I joined after they had read Shanghai Girls. It's gripping, sad and hopeful all a the same time, and I cant wait to go on and read the sequel!
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on 23 October 2014
I bought the whole set of Lisa See's novels after reading just one, I totally fell in love with her writing and stories. Brutally honest story of two girls caught up in Chinese politics and conflicts who escape to the USA unwillingly. Then they live a lie to protect themselves, until finally their daughter finds out....
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on 7 October 2014
Just the sort of book I like! A wonderful blend of social history and a fantastic story. Lisa See skilfully paints a picture of life for two sisters who are "Beautiful girls" in Shanghai in the 1930's, and then takes us on a horrific and traumatic journey with them to America. We then live with them life in the Chinese community in pre-war and post-war America. The characters are wonderfully drawn and I found myself sympathizing with both Pearl and May and the members of their extended family. I learnt a lot about the awful prejudice the Chinese suffered at the time and this enhanced my enjoyment of the book skilfully involving me in the sisters story. I must admit that to start with I felt there was a lot of description in the early stages, but this only served as a foundation for the unfolding story, without it the reader wouldn't fully understand how hard it was for Pearl and May to live in America with their "new" family or understand their eventual split loyalties. This was my first Lisa See book - but it won't be my last.
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on 9 November 2009
At first glancing at the book I was wondering if the book reflected only modern china , but the story was enthralling. (albeit it took me 2/3 chapters to start) There are some very powerful moments in the book that provoke strong emotion and again give you the real sense of china and how it has developed. the story is about young girls in Shanghai who live a lavish lifestyle only then to be ruined by their father and have to take a very long journey for their survival. I love the author Lisa See and recommend all her books for lovers for Asian fiction.
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on 15 August 2015
A page turner, which starts with a lot of promise and continues that way until about 3/4 of the way through, however, I agree with other reviewers that at that stage the focus becomes a bit lost, as does the reader's (and possibly author's) interest in the book. It was one of the last books I read and I can't for the life of me remember it's ending which, I think, says it all.
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on 1 August 2013
Wasn't sure I would enjoy this book but it was amazing and I couldn't put it down.
I read it on holiday which always makes it easier but would definitely look out for more Lisa See's books..
Such a sad and happy story at the same time. What difficult times in China.
Would highly recommend.
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on 4 June 2009
This story is about two sisters, Pearl and May, who expect to have a life as "beautiful girls" in Shanghai -- their "Paris of Asia." They are shocked to find out that their father has arranged marriages for them, to make good on a tremendous debt. They were led to believe that they would be able to make decisions for themselves, and not live in the past as their mother has done, so -- naturally -- they fight the arrangements.

They do get married, but they do not leave China with their new husbands as planned, which is very near the time when the Japanese invade. As a result of this decision to stay behind, they are put through a series of traumatic events. Eventually, they decide the best thing would be to go to their husbands in America, but this does not end their suffering.

After they leave Angel Island, they are tested even further. Once they stop fighting their fates, their lives finally find some happiness. This happiness is marred by the treatment of Chinese in America because of being mistaken for Japanese, and then being accused of spying for Communist China.

Pearl and May have been keeping a lot of secrets between themselves during their lives, and eventually, Pearl's daughter finds out the truth about her family. She is furious with her mother and Aunt May, and makes a drastic decision that tears apart what is left of the only family they have.

The story is told by Pearl, as if she is speaking directly to the reader face-to-face, and I enjoyed the POV immensely. I was very interested in the characters, and often felt like I was there with them. However, the ending was extremely disappointing, compared with the rest of the book.

First of all, Pearl has a sudden revelation that everything she believed may have been a lie, or a false perspective. I find it hard to believe that her character, a strong woman who is very sure of herself, would suddenly agree that she was mistaken about everything. Also, the end of the story was so abrupt, I thought I had an incomplete copy, but I found out (after inquiring) that was the actual ending. We are left to wonder what became of four main characters -- FOUR!, right after the remaining family members are faced with yet another crisis.

I might have given this book five stars, but that ending absolutely ruined everything good about the story. I would have sung praises about the author, but there is a big difference between leaving an ending "open," and just stopping the story.

Another work of fiction that shows how cultural differences affect characters is The Pearl Diver, which has a proper ending.
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