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Review: Shanghai Girls by Lisa See

Shanghai Girls
by Lisa See


I have previously reviewed Dreams of Joy, which is the sequel to Shanghai Girls.

As two beautiful modern Chinese women in 1930s Shanghai, Pearl and May live a life of luxury. They “work” as models, posing for painters who use their smiling faces to sell soaps and other household goods on posters that paper the city. But their carefree, happy lives come crashing to an end when their father announces that in order to erase a large gambling debt, the two girls must marry two young men from Los Angeles. The girls initially resist, but as war breaks out in Shanghai they have little choice but to flee to the countryside and from there, cross the Pacific and reunite with their betrothed. Life in America is harder than Pearl and May ever expected; the wealth their father-in-law flaunted in China was only an illusion. Although each sister struggles to conceal secrets that could destroy her fragile life in Los Angeles, they discover small joys hidden amongst the many tragedies.

This is a great story. It really has everything in it – drama, gentle moments of humor, wonderful characters and a nearly unbreakable bond between two fascinating, strong-hearted women. I admire Pearl’s steadfast nature and her slow-burning courage, and May’s quick wit and adaptability. The two of them together are such perfect opposites that when united, they really seem unstoppable.

Of course, would they be as close if such traumatic events had not driven them together? I wonder. I’d like to think so. They were already like peas in a pod at the beginning of the book, and though their many misfortunes at times drive a wedge between them, the sisters always come together again.

Neither sister is perfect, of course. The story is told through Pearl’s eyes, and though she loves her sister deeply she finds her to be silly, coquettish, and lazy. As the years pass, and May remains pretty and fresh with a far more glamorous career, Pearl often fights jealousy. Pearl is well aware of some of her own faults, especially her stubbornness, but she doesn’t always realize the consequences of her actions until too late. For example, it becomes clear early on to the reader that her husband truly cares for Pearl, and if she could look past her emotional walls they might have a happy marriage, despite their many troubles. But for most of the novel, she refuses to be a wife of the heart with her husband, and it’s quite frustrating and sad.

It’s an odd thing, reading a book when you’ve already read the sequel. You know who the characters will be, but not who they are. You may have glimpsed their past in flashbacks or in conversation, but now you’re living it alongside them. Shanghai Girls and Dreams of Joy could be one continuous novel – one starts at the same moment the other ends. I would strongly recommend getting both books at the same time. Shanghai Girls ends abruptly, and I know that if I hadn’t already read the sequel I would have been driven mad waiting for it.


5 out of 5 stars


To read more about Shanghai Girls, buy it or add it to your wishlist click here.





Peeking into the archives...today in:
2012: Vacation: Weddingpalooza
2011: The Secret History of Elizabeth Tudor, Vampire Slayer by Lucy Weston
2010: Dawn of the Dreadfuls by Steve Hockensmith
2009: The Heretic Queen by Michelle Moran

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