“Shanghai Girls” was another exciting and interesting book, made particularly enjoyable by Lisa See’s amazing writing ability. See’s ability to make the characters seem real and her deep understanding of Asian culture is the perfect platform to tell the story of sisters Pearl and May. They live an idyllic life in China until they are sold and forced to marry men they don’t know to pay their father’s debt. Initially, they refuse to join their husbands in America, but in the wake of political turmoil in China, they realize they have no other choice, and struggle to reach America.
The first half of the book was really interesting and filled with adventure as the sisters are thrust into terrifying situations and even face death as they try to escape China. The sisters exhibit strength and courage and take control of their lives through their determination to reach America. They are held in a containment location for months as they battle the political red tape to ultimately be granted access to their in-laws. Through all thus, their bond as sisters is strengthened, as they share secrets and continue to rely on each other.
But the discontent that was present in their lives as they tried to adjust in America was underdeveloped. See once again addressed themes of obligation and duty that befall women, particularly in the Asian family structure. The struggles of Pearl to find personal happiness while living a life which does not fulfill her is a prominent and timeless theme that women of all ages can relate to. See makes one question whether the price of having a “happy” family is worth denying oneself a life of her own. In this respect, I hoped the second half of the book would be much different.
Overall, I liked the book, and really enjoyed See’s writing. I would recommend it, particularly to those who also enjoyed “Snow Flower and The Secret Fan.”