Rated Reads

Shanghai Girls

by Lisa See

Rated: Mild

Sisters Pearl and May live in 1930s Shanghai, a sophisticated city with many opportunities. The two young women come from a well-to-do family and have all they need. They are even allowed to pose for artists as “beautiful girls,” models whose images appear on calendars advertising all kinds of products. They have their own lives and unusual freedom.

Then one day, their father informs them he has gambled away all his wealth, even the earnings they had given him to save, and that he has essentially sold them as brides to two young men who live in America. The two girls are devastated and desperately look for ways to get around their fate, but when the Japanese attack their city, they end up having to escape to the husbands they never wanted, and to a country they never desired to live in.

Shanghai Girls follows Pearl and May as they fight their way out of China and into America and as they settle into a new life in Los Angeles. Lisa See takes readers into a time and place where Chinese-Americans were hated and feared as being Communists and discriminated against, and where the traditions of the old country clash and mix with the expectations and necessities of a new country. All the while, she acquaints us with the hearts of two sisters, their strong love for and loyalty to each other and their rivalries and disputes. We are as devastated as they are when a long-buried secret threatens to tear them apart, and hopeful that even through all their challenges, they can find happiness in a new place while missing the land of their youth.

See once again has written a powerful and intimate novel, opening a window into the lives and particular experiences of Chinese-Americans, but most especially the thoughts and dreams of women.

Rated: Mild, for mild language, mild sexual references, and a scene of rape.

— Reviewed by Cathy Carmode Lim

Cathy Carmode Lim has been reviewing books for newspapers for more than 20 years, two of which she was a book page editor. She founded Rated Reads in January 2008.

2 Responses to Shanghai Girls

  1. […] Shanghai Girls, Lisa See tells the story of two sisters who had a privileged life in 1930s Shanghai but were […]

  2. […] been a big fan of Lisa See’s books since I read Shanghai Girls three years ago. Something about her characters and storytelling always grabs me early on in the […]