Shanghai Girls - Book Review

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SHANGHAI GIRLS, BY LISA SEE
BOOK REVIEW

I. INTRODUCTION
A. Review
Lisa See is an American writer and novelist born in 1955 in Paris, and grew up in the Chinatown section of Los Angeles. Her great-grandfather left his village in China to immigrate in Los Angeles at the beginning of the last century. Although she is only 1/8 Chinese, she spent he childhood in the Chinatown of Los Angeles, and her familial background has given her roots in Chinese culture and has had a great impact on her life and work. See is the author of the critically acclaimed international bestseller, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan; Peony in Love; Flower Net (an Edgar Award nominee); The Interior; and Dragon Bones, as well as the critically acclaimed memoir On Gold Mountain, and Shanghai Girls. Her first book, On Gold Mountain: The One Hundred Year Odyssey of My Chinese-American Family (1995), was a national bestseller and a New York Times Notable Book. The book traces the journey of her great-grandfather, Fong See, who overcame obstacles at every step to become the 100-year-old godfather of Los Angeles’s Chinatown and the patriarch of a sprawling family. Her position in the Chinese-American community has given her awards and recognitions such as the Organization of Chinese Americans Women's 2001 award as National Woman of the Year.

Shanghai Girls traces the carefree life of two sisters that are opposites in every way, Pearl and May Chin, in the cosmopolitan Shanghai of 1937, and whose life turned upside down when their father, ruined, decides to sell them to some Chinese in California. Meanwhile, Japanese have invaded the country and bombs are falling on the country, and May and Pearl, from leaving and enjoying an upper-crust life in Shanghai, will both have to fight for their lives, going through pain and sacrifices to finally meet their destiny in America. They then settle in Los Angeles and try to integrate despite racism and anticommunism. Shanghai Girls is about two sisters, accomplices and inseparable friends, sharing the same hopes and dreams, but also corroded by jealousy and rivalry.

The novel brings up many issues and topics, such as Chinese traditions, the importance of family, Chinese immigration to the US in the early twentieth century, the political changes between the 1930s and 1950s, anticommunism and integration. However, the main topic here would be the chains of friendship within the confines of family. Indeed, the two heroines are sisters, but also best friends. Inseparable, they share everything, from hopes to interests and clothes. But like any other sisters, they also harbor jealousies and rivalries, and despite their love for each other, they also know their each other secrets and therefore where to drive the knife to hurt the other the most. The book deals with how May and Pearl will grow through adversity and sacrifice together, to discover what it means to be family. Also, the novel is divided in three sections/chapters: fate, fortune and destiny. One might think these parts reflect some important themes of the Chinese culture and society.

Lisa See comes from a Chinese American family that emigrated in America. The author’s purpose in writing this book is to draw the immigrant experience of two Chinese women, and take her readers on a tragic yet hopeful journey starting in Shanghai and ending in Los Angeles. The author want to retrace and illustrate what millions of Chinese women must have endured in order to survive in the 1930-50’s, both at home and abroad. See clearly wants to educate her readers, giving them a history lesson. Through Pearl and May’s journey to becoming American, she wants her readers – all coming from different part of the world and from different background - to be able to see their own history.

B. Relationships
Shanghai Girls is a narrative novel that takes its power from the strong and unique narrative voice of Pearl, the elder sister. Her narration is unique because of...
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