Shanghai Girls by Lisa See
Pearl and her sister May are Beautiful Girls in Shanghai, which means their faces are used to sell everything from soap to cigarettes. It is a lovely, carefree life, one with lots of parties and glamorous clothes. Unfortunately, we are introduced to Pearl and May just as their world is about to crumble. Their father has lost all of the family’s money gambling. Actually, he has lost more than all the family’s money gambling, and to pay his debts he must sell his rickshaw business and his daughters to Old Man Louie. Pearl and May are to marry Old Man Louie’s youngest two sons and return with them to Los Angeles. Things don’t go exactly as planned, with the girls’ own stubbornness and the invasion of Shanghai by the Japanese intruding on plans, but eventually Pearl and May make their way to their new husbands and new lives in America.
“Shanghai Girls” had a VERY different feel than “Snow Flower and the Secret Fan.” Like “Snow Flower” it is very well written and focuses on the relationship between two girls/women. I think the biggest difference was the setting. Whereas “Snow Flower” took place in relatively rural China in the 19th century, “Shanghai Girls” was set in cosmopolitan Shanghai, as well as Los Angeles, in the first half of the 20th century. Of the two books, I would have to say that I somewhat preferred “Snow Flower and the Secret Fan,” but primarily based on personal preferences, not objective ordering.
“Snow Flower” was about a time and culture far more alien from my own. I learned about nu shu and just how horrible foot binding really was. “Shanghai Girls,” on the other hand took place in a culture I recognized. Even when the girls were still in Shanghai they had very international and Western sensibilities. Although they did not interact with a large number of Westerners in while in Los Angeles, the theme of immigrant life in America, including the discrimination against those of Asian-descent during and prior to World War II is something with which I am much more familiar from other books.
Even thought I preferred “Snow Flower” for the reasons listed above, I really enjoyed “Shanghai Girls.” It was a wonderful story about trying to do the best with what you have and about the difference that perspective makes.
“Shanghai Girls” is being released next week, but I ended up with an extra ARC somehow, which I will be giving away to one lucky reader. Leave me a comment that is relevant to this post and says something more than “please enter me” or “I want to win this” to enter. Tweet or blog about this contest then come back and leave me the link for an extra entry. Each entry (original comment, blog URL, tweet URL) must be left in a separate comment to count. I will be drawing the winner first thing in the morning on Friday, May 29th. I will send worldwide.