Another book review blog?!?

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Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Shanghai Girls: a Novel - Historical fiction

Author: Lisa See
Publication Date: 2009 
Number of pages: 314 (hdbk.)
Part of a Series: No series
Subject Heading(s):
  • Arranged marriage
  • China
  • Chinese-American women
  • Domestic fiction
  • Family secrets
  • Historical fiction
  • Illegal immigrants
  • Immigrants – United States
  • Los Angeles
  • Loyalty
  • Poverty
  • Prejudice
  • Race relations
  • Shanghai
  • Sisters  
  • Women’s lives and relationships
  • World War II  
Geographical Setting / Time period: Shanghai, China and Los Angeles, CA / 1937-1957

Main Character(s):
Pearl Chin – the older Chin daughter, bookish, tall, and stubbornly modern, but bound to her sister by a sense of duty
May Chin – the younger Chin daughter, May is beautiful, charming and spoiled as well as modern
Sam Louie – Pearl’s husband by arranged marriage, Sam is resilient, strong, and usually silent
Joy Louie – born in America to May but raised by Pearl and Sam, Joy is an optimistic, idealistic go-getter who seeks the truth

Plot Summary: Peal and May Chin are two young adult sisters living the life of the privileged in Shanghai at the start of the novel.  However, that life soon comes to a crashing halt when they discover their family is destitute and that they have been sold into arranged marriages to men in California to help pay off their father’s gambling debts.  The novel covers the next twenty years of their lives as they survive invasion, warfare, immigration, and prejudice through their unique bond as sisters. 
Appeal: This measured novel focused on well-developed, introspective characterization and detailed descriptions of historical events in China and Los Angeles.  The storyline is character-driven, domestic, and totally open-ended.  The novel features accurate and authentic details of the Battle of Shanghai (1937), the bombing of Pearl Harbor (1941), the development of Chinatown in Los Angeles, the Communist takeover of Shanghai (1949), and the Confession Program in the US.  There are also many details about traditional Chinese culture and life as an immigrant in America.  The style of the novel is very candid and personal as it is in first-person point of view. 

Brief quote: “I thought I was modern.  I thought I had choice.  I thought I was nothing like my mother.  But my father’s gambling has swept all that away.  I’m to be sold – traded like so many other girls before me – to help my family.  I feel so trapped and so helpless that I can hardly breathe.” (p.25-26 : spoken by Pearl)

Awards: Honorable mention from the Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature

Similar Works:
Inheritance – Lan Samantha Chang – features daughter forced into arranged marriage as a result of her father’s gambling debts, sets in 1930s in China and US.  Relationship between sisters.  
Joy Luck Club – Amy Tan – discusses women’s relationships and stories of Chinese immigrants in San Francisco  
Midnight at the Dragon Café – Judy Fong Bates – the story of a young Chinese immigrant girl as she and her family struggle to assimilate in Ontario in the 1950s.

Notes: Interesting FAQ page about the book on author’s website:

Reviewer’s Name: Jennifer Lehner
Shanghai Girls: A Novel 

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