Shanghai Girls {Book Review}

Shanghai Girls is the often painful story of two sisters born in China. As “beautiful girls,” Pearl and May have a happy live in Shanghai. Their father is wealthy, they have servants, and their faces adorn many of the calendars and posters that hang in the houses and shops of their city. They are small-town celebrities of sorts, selling everything from peaches to cigars to the proper Chinese way of life. They are modern women and it is 1937.

When their father loses everything in a series of bad gambles, they do to. Torn from everything they have ever known, they are forced into marriages to men they have never met before. Their marriages are more than simple arranged marriages. A wealthy Chinese businessman from Los Angeles  wants wives for his sons and will pay off their father’s debts. As dutiful daughters, they have no choice. No matter how modern they may think themselves to be, they must honor the family and pay off the debts.

Lisa See tells the story through Pearl’s eyes. Pearl is the oldest daughter and unloved by her parents. She is not as beautiful as her sister but must guard and protect her to maintain the family honor. As the years pass, carefully hidden secrets are revealed, threatening to tear the sisters apart. The story is masterfully woven, eqxuisitiely capturing beauty and complexity of the sister-relationship.  The love that slowly blossoms between Pearl and her husband, Sam, is touching. May struggles to accept her teenage groom – a 14 year old boy who is too busy going to the junior high school to be a husband.

The novel follows the sisters as they settle down in Los Angeles. Pearl raises her daughter, Joy, and May delves into the Hollywood life. Both of them struggle to be accepted by their new country. As the years pass and WW2 and the fear of communist China rages, the women hold their heads high and do what it takes to carve out a good life for their family.

As a sister, I appreciate the honesty and emotion that goes into the narrative. Yes, I have good friends but none of them share with me the same bond that lies between me and my younger sister. See evokes deep emotions, showing how both sisters alternate between selfish and sacrificing. This book captures the essence of the women – how at times, they hated each other but were ultimately knit together for life. They fought. They struggled. But they were sisters and sister-in-laws.  I would recommend this book to anyone looking for a touching story of life, loss, love, and the unique bond of sisters. Due to some of the content, it’s not one for a kiddo.

Disclaimer: In no way was I paid for this book review. It wasn’t even a book donated for the cause. Just a book I picked up at the library and liked enough to blog about.

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