Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Review: Shanghai Girls by Lisa See

...In the days before the Republic, I would have already been sent sight unseen to my husband's home in a red lacquer sedan chair.  By now I would have given birth to several children, sons hopefully.  But I was born in 1916, the fourth year of the Republic.  Footbinding was banned and women's lives changed.  People in Shanghai now consider arranged marriages backward.  Everyone wants to marry for love.  In the meantime, we all believe in free love.  Not that I've given it freely.  (from Shanghai Girls, pages 15-16, hardcover)

I can tell you already that Shanghai Girls will make "the best books I read in 2010" list.  Set in China and the United States from 1937-1957, Shanghai Girls covers the Japanese invasion of China, World War II, and China's civil war.  Lisa See tells the story through the eyes of Pearl Chin, a modern girl born and raised in Shanghai, a "beautiful girl" who earns money with her sister by posing for painted advertisements for an assortment of products.  Pearl is older sister to May, who is their parents' favorite, who is more beautiful than Pearl, needier than Pearl, and less educated than Pearl.  But despite their differences, they are best friends.

When Shanghai Girls opens, Pearl and May lead relatively carefree lives -- the family has servants, they have new and modern clothes, and they are able to earn money to save for themselves.  They have grand plans for their futures; they don't have bound feet and they won't be subject to arranged marriages.  But their world is turned upside down when their father tells them that he squandered all of the family's money, including their earnings, and to ensure that he and their mother can continue living in the family home, he has sold the girls to Old Man Louie, an American born merchant, to become wives to his younger sons and move with them to America.  They have no intention of becoming wives to men -- boys, actually -- they don't know or moving away from the city they love.  But then the Japanese invade China, bombs are dropped on their beloved city, suffering is everywhere, and the girls have nowhere to go.  Their family is disgraced, torn apart, leaving nothing but their bond to one another.

Shanghai Girls runs the gamut of emotions.  Pearl and May's story is heartbreaking and hopeful at the same time.  It is a story of survival, moving forward when you have nothing and recognizing the importance of family, loyalty, duty, and honor.  Lisa See's writing is brilliant, detailed, and beautiful, and she touches upon cultural issues -- particularly with regard to gender and class -- the harshness of the immigrant life, sibling rivalry, and racism and discrimination in the United States during and after World War II, among other things.  Pearl's first person, present tense viewpoint puts readers in the midst of the action; we can hear the bombs falling on Shanghai, we can feel the sisters' fear as they enter a country completely foreign to them, and we can feel their frustration as they struggle with being "worthless" women according to Chinese culture.

I have zero in common with Pearl, yet I felt a kinship with her from page one.  In telling her story and not holding back -- even when doing so reveals her own flaws -- Pearl seems real.  She's just a woman dealt a bad hand who could have given up and perished at the hands of the Japanese but kept plugging along, learning to be happy with her lot and discovering joy here and there along the way.  Shanghai Girls is one of those books that you can't put down.  Certain scenes hit me hard in the stomach and brought tears to my eyes, and I knew almost from the start that I would be deeply affected by this book...and absolutely love it.

About the Author

Lisa See is the New York Times bestselling author of Peony in Love, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, Flower Net (an Edgar Award Nominee), The Interior, and Dragon Bones, as well as the critically acclaimed memoir On Gold Mountain.  The Organization of Chinese American women named her the 2001 National Woman of the Year.  She lives in Los Angeles.

Read an excerpt of Shanghai Girls here.

Check out the other stops on the Shanghai Girls blog tour by clicking here.

Disclosure: I received a free copy of Shanghai Girls from Random House for review purposes

GIVEAWAY!

Courtesy of Random House, I have 2 trade paperback copies of Shanghai Girls up for grabs.  Just leave a comment on this post with your e-mail address.  This giveaway will run until Sunday, January 24, at 11:59 pm EST and is open to U.S./Canada addresses only.

61 comments:

Suko said...

Terrific review, Anna! No need to enter me in the giveaway as I already have a copy of Shanghai Girls.

Melody said...

Great review, Anna!
I've read a lot of good reviews on this one so I'll have to check it out!

Charley said...

I did not get into Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, but your best of 2010 statement makes this sound promising, so perhaps I'll give it a try. I'm not sure it's one I'll get to any time soon, though, so no need to enter me in the giveaway.

Blodeuedd said...

I do wanna read this book now, must check the library pages at once

Ladytink_534 said...

You make this sound so good! I'd love to be entered!

Meghan said...

I loved this book too! I think I'm going to end up reading everything Lisa See writes in the future. No need to enter me in the giveaway as I already have a copy. =)

Sandy Nawrot said...

I cannot wait to read this!

Serena said...

no need to enter me, but I am looking forward to reading this book later this month. I'll post your giveaway in the sidebar as usual.

Linda said...

I read and enjoyed Snow Flower... I'm sure I would love this novel. I have a nephew who lives in Shanghai with his lovely Chinese wife. This has increased my interest in reading books like this. Thanks for the giveaway.
lcbrower40(at)gmail(dot)com

DarcyO said...

Ooh, this sounds good. Thanks for the review. Please include me.

dlodden at frontiernet dot net

bermudaonion said...

I am really looking forward to reading this book, so I'm glad you loved it so much. No need to enter me.

Heather J. said...

Ok, I am NOT going to read your review now - once I saw that you really enjoyed it, I stopped reading b/c I'm planning to pick this book up myself within just a few days. Once I finish I'll come back and see what you had to say. :)

Jo-Jo said...

Oh how I loved this story, I'm glad you enjoyed it also Anna! It sure made my list of favorites from last year.

Crazy-for-Books said...

I can't wait to read this one! Please enter me in the contest!

js1997 (AT) gmail (DOT) com

Great review!!

Kaye said...

No need to enter me either, Anna. I liked the book a lot but thought I missed something at the end, it seemed to stop abruptly. I'm waiting for the sequel. Glad you enjoyed it so much.

Susan Helene Gottfried said...

Ooh, go and enter me. I know you've got my e-mail bookmarked.

I loved the review, babe. Really well done.

And, as always, thanks for the e-mail. I've got this posted at Win a Book for you.

Julie P. said...

Absolutely great review. I just finished this one last night.

Dar said...

Great review Anna. My review goes up tomorrow. I felt the same about this book as you did. It's a very good novel.

Haleyknitz said...

I'd love to win! haleymathiot@yahoo.com

Marjorie said...

An absolute super giveaway that
is on my wish list.

Please count me in.

cenya2 at hotmail dot com

Staci said...

I adored this book too Anna!! In fact, I have loved every book Lisa See has written!!

Jeanne said...

I agree that it's a great book. No need to enter me as I read and reviewed it last June (when Lisa See's sister sent me an email telling me she liked the review and would tell her sister about it--I thought that was nice!)

A Bookshelf Monstrosity said...

I just finished Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by See and am completely taken with her writing style. Please sign me up for the giveaway! Thanks.

fitz12383(at)hotmail(dot)com

Stephanie said...

This sounds wonderful! I loved your review, especially the way you described the character development.

laughingstars66@yahoo.com

Iliana said...

Great review, Anna! Please enter me in the giveaway. I've heard so many wonderful things about this novel that I'm really looking forward to reading it.

avisannschild said...

I keep hearing good things about this book. Please enter me!

shereadsandreads(at)gmail(dot)com

Lourdes said...

Wonderful review. I've heard many great things about this book, plus I love the cover.

lourdesnavarrosd(at)yahoo(dot)com

Sheila Deeth said...

This sounds a wonderful book. I hope I win it, but if I don't I'll have to go out and buy it. Great review. Thanks.

Sheila Deeth said...

Ah, forgot the email address - sdeeth at msn dot com

Nelsby said...

Thanks so much for the giveaway -- I have read some really good reviews for this book!
Aimee
sierranelsby (at) gmail (dot) com

Annette said...

I've had my eye on this book for a while, but not purchased it yet.
I would love to win a copy.
Thanks.

Diane said...

Loved your review. I enjoyed this book as well. Lisa See is a favorite author for me.

Kristen said...

This was a good'un wasn't it? No need to enter me. I've read and enjoyed it already. :-)

Bored_D said...

Please enter me!

boredd09(at)gmail(dot)com

Isabel said...

I am looking forward to See's next book tour to New Orleans. I enjoy hearing her read.

She said in the last tour that I saw her that she has countless stories to write. She's written about 3 regions and who knows how many regions she still hasn't visited yet!

DCMetroreader said...

Wow this sounds so good -- great review!

Please enter me.

kimspam66(at)yahoo(dot)com

Linna said...

I'm interested in this book. Please do enter me. Thanks.

linna.hsu at gmail dot com

Lori L said...

Great Review! I'd love to win a copy of Lisa See's Shanghai Girls! I enjoyed her book Snow Flower and the Secret Fan.
shetreadssoftly(at)gmail(dot)com

Lisa said...

that's saying something when you declare a book a "best" of the year in January!

Booksnyc said...

I would love to read this one - have heard great things about it! Thanks for hosting the giveaway.

leenbeen2001 (at) yahoo (dot) com

LisaMM said...

Wow, Anna, great review! I'm so happy you enjoyed this book. I'm such a Lisa See fan and just want everyone to read her!!

Thanks so much for all the time spent reading and reviewing this book. It's early to say it will end up on your Best Of list for the year, but you say it with confidence! It was one of my favorite reads last year, too, and I knew it would be really early on..

Thanks again! Great review..

Sheila (Bookjourney) said...

Already making your 2010 top reads list is pretty impressive! I have wanted to read this book! Thanks for the chance to win.

journey through books @ gmail dot com

Renee G said...

I would love to read a copy of this.
rsgrandinetti@yahoo(dot)com

Dawn M. said...

This has been on my wish list for a while now. Would love the chance to win it. Count me in, please! :0)

Thanks!
librarygrinch at gmail dot com

bison61 said...

I like the reviews of this book and I want to read it!

tiramisu392 (at) yahoo.com

409cope said...

This sounds like my type of book. I would love to be entered! cardshark42(at)hotmail(dot)com

Tracey said...

I have been thinking of reading this for a while and your review has only made me want to read it more - and soon! No need to enter me either as I'm not eligible O:( Off to the library I go...

Mark David said...

This is just what I needed, another respected blogger telling me that this book will be one of her best reads this year (even though the year has just started)... I want this book already! And now that you've announced that there's a trade paperback available, how can I still resist? I'm gonna get a copy as soon as I find it at the bookstores... thanks Anna!

Mystica said...

Great review. Appreciate if you could count me in.

mystica123athotmaildotcom

christa @ mental foodie said...

Oh already on my TBR list - so can't wait to read it!

Marie Burton said...

I would love to win a copy of this one, especially since it will make your best of 2010 list.
marieburton2004 at yahoo dot com
Thanks!

Sue said...

I enjoyed Snow Flower and the Secret Fan and I've heard great things about Shanghai Girls.
Thanks for the giveaway!

s.mickelson at gmail dot com

Sarah E said...

Please enter me in this giveaway!

saemmerson at yahoo dot com

Sarah E

Anna said...

Thanks everyone! I've heard nothing but good things about Lisa See's other books, and I hope to read them at some point. I've read that she's writing a sequel to Shanghai Girls, and I can't wait to read it!!

Wanda said...

I would love to be entered in your draw. Thanks.
wandanamgreb(at)gmail(dot)com)

Scrappy Cat said...

This sounds like a wonderful book. I read Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See and loved it. I also entered Serena's giveaway for this book, so hopefully . . .

csgebhart at gmail dot com

Margie said...

I'd love to read this book. Thanks for the giveaway.
mtakala1 AT yahoo DOT com

pixie13 said...

Sounds like such a wonderful read. Please count me in. Thanks!

gevin13{at}gmail{dot}com

rocknmyway said...

That book sounds like a great read. Thanks for letting us enter to win a copy.

rocknmyway@hotmail.com

CherylS22 said...

I've read several of Lisa See's & have enjoyed every one. I'd love to read this book as well - please count me in!

Thanks ~ megalon22 at yahoo dot com

Anna said...

This giveaway is now closed, and the winners will be chosen by Randomizer.org and announced shortly. Thanks to all who entered, mentioned the giveaway on their blogs, or just stopped by to read the review. I really appreciate it.