Nina's Reading Blog

Comments on books I am reading/listening to

Shanghai Girls

Posted by nliakos on February 25, 2012

by Lisa See (Random House 2009, 2010)

Narrated by Pearl, Shanghai Girls tells the story of Pearl and her younger sister May, born to wealth and privilege in pre-war Shanghai. At 21 and 18, Pearl and May earn their own money by modeling for “Beautiful Girl calendars”, wearing mostly western clothes and showing rather more skin than is proper for young Chinese women. They speak fluent English and Pearl has just graduated from college. She is in love with the artist who frequently paints them. Pearl and May do not respect their parents as good Chinese daughters should, but life is good and full of promise. At the beginning of the book, I rather dislike the two sisters. They are empty-headed and spoiled.

Abruptly, their world collapses. Their father has gambled away the family’s wealth and has promised Pearl and May as brides for the sons of “Old Man Louie” in Los Angeles, as a repayment for his debts. Pearl and May are forced to go through with the weddings, and Pearl even sleeps with her husband, Sam, but neither girl intends to show up to take the boat for California. However, the “Green Gang” comes after them on behalf of Old Man Louie as the Japanese are attacking Shanghai.  They barely escape with their mother and then undergo horrors as they try to distance themselves from the besieged city. In the end, after many troubles, they do end up in Los Angeles, but the promised wealth and beautiful houses turn out to be a pack of lies. Old Man Louie is relatively poorer than their family was. But there is no going back, as the Communists follow the Japanese in Shanghai. Pearl and May must make their lives in Los Angeles as best they can.

This is a great story, well written and with a lot of historical detail. I learned a lot and enjoyed it.  Advanced English language learners, especially Chinese students, will probably find it enjoyable as well.

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One Response to “Shanghai Girls”

  1. […] daughter Vicki borrowed this sequel to Shanghai Girls from the library for me. She figured I would want to read it, since I had read and enjoyed the […]

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