For months now I have been seeing rave reviews for Shanghai Girls. Everybody seems to love it. I have a long established rule of not buying hard bound fiction (there are no public libraries here in Manila. I only bought one hard bound work of fiction in 2009, Inherent Vice by Thomas Pynchon and I would advise others to wait for the paperback or skip it if you are not a Pynchon fan) I was so happy when I saw Shanghai Girls in paperback (regular paperback at that) for sale last week. It also has a beautiful cover.
There are lots of very good blog posts on this book. (I think the publisher gave away a lot of copies to USA and UK bloggers.) I will for this reason not do a long post on this book. I will just try to say how I felt about the book and what I liked and did not like about it.
The novel begins in 1937 in Shanghai. I loved how Lisa See created the atmosphere of Shanghai in the late 1930s. I understood why it was such a loved city and it was heartbreaking to see it destroyed by the Japanese in World War II. I loved how the book depicted the family relationships. The characters were perfectly done. I really cared what happened to everyone. I also enjoyed seeing the lead female characters develop and gain from their experiences. I learned a lot about the horrific process Chinese often had in their immigration to the USA. I admit I was not fully aware of the tremendous discrimination Chinese Americans faced, especially during the communist scare period of the 1950s where every Chinese was seen as a potential Maoist spy. The books covers twenty years in the history of two deeply bonded sisters. A lot happens in their lives, some very sad things. We see how an arranged marriage slowly develops into a real relationship. The atmosphere of China Town in Los Angeles is as well done as the portrayal of Shanghai. I really liked the the portrayal of Joy, the daughter of one of the sisters. There are surprise revelations at every turn. The action is fast moving and a lot happens. The prose is well done and easy to read. The only part of the book I did not really like was the ending. It seems a bit forced but I read Lisa See is working on a sequel.
Lisa See has written two other historical novels, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan and Peony in Love. The first is set in 17th century China and the second in the 19th century. I hope to read both of these works in 2010. When there is a sequel to Shanghai Girls I might have to violate my no hardbound fiction for it.
I am reading this book for these challenges
POC challenge (Lisa See is an American of Chinese Heritage)
New Author Challenge (this means new to the reader)
Global Challenge (North American book)-going for second level now-
I also think this book is very much related to issues of the Women Unbound Challenge. It depicts the the literal binding results of foot binding. It shows how daughters were viewed as property to be sold in marriage to the most generous bidders. The suggestion in the Shanghai section of the novel is that a woman can either be a dutiful wife and mother or prostitute, those were a woman's options in China in the 1930s.
Suko of Suko's Note Book has done an excellent review of Shanghai Girls.