BookBrowse Reviews Shanghai Girls by Lisa See

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reading Guide |  Reviews |  Beyond the book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

Shanghai Girls

A Novel

by Lisa See

Shanghai Girls by Lisa See
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    May 2009, 336 pages
    Paperback:
    Feb 2010, 336 pages

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs

Buy This Book

About this Book

Reviews

BookBrowse:


Lisa See's new novel is sure to please existing fans while attracting a whole new set of admirers

Lisa See's latest novel, Shanghai Girls, follows two sisters' lives from 1937 to 1957, a time of rapid change for China and for those of Chinese descent living in the USA. In 1937, the Japanese invaded China, temporarily halting a civil war that had begun in 1927 and didn't end until the founding of The People's Republic of China in 1950.  During this period, many Chinese fled to the United States where they were met with draconian immigration procedures, hostility and discrimination in their neighborhoods, and the suspicion of being Communist spies (most notably during the McCarthy era of the early 1950s).  The author creates a rich sense of time and place, from the descriptions of the terror of being in Shanghai as the first bombs fell, to life in San Francisco's Chinese neighborhoods. Pearl Chin is the Chinese "everywoman" who narrates the story, leading the reader through these tumultuous events to a deeper understanding of the immigrant experience from the perspective of the Chinese citizens who relocated to the United States in the 1940s and 50s.

See has many talents, but she is especially adept at characterization; even minor figures are well-drawn and three-dimensional. Pearl in particular is an extraordinary creation in that she's both a remarkable woman and completely ordinary at the same time – a difficult balance for any author to achieve. Her growth throughout the story is exceptionally well illustrated. She starts out as a callow, self-absorbed girl completely oblivious to the world around her who, like so many children on the brink of adulthood, thinks her parents are old-fashioned and know far less than she. By the end of the book she has gained wisdom; she now understands her parents' concerns and appreciates the lessons they tried to teach her as she attempts to pass the same lessons down to her own daughter. It's an extremely believable and realistic progression, and the author does a fine job of conveying it to her readers.

See is also a keen observer of how people react and relate to one another. As in her previous novels, she explores the complex relationship that develops between women who have known each other over a long period of time, in this case the relationship of Pearl and her younger sister, May. As in real-life, the women's perspectives differ and cause a degree of tension. As in most sisterhoods there is love, but also long-simmering resentment and the ability to wound each other deeply. The way in which the sisters interact will undoubtedly resonate with readers, particularly those with siblings.

The only criticism that can be leveled against the book – and it's certainly minor - is that loose-ends are not wrapped up by the novel's conclusion, leading one to believe (and hope) there's another book in the works that will feature Pearl and the women around her. Regardless, Shanghai Girls is perhaps Lisa See's best novel to date. Its multi-layered themes will keep readers fascinated, while its fast-moving plot will keep them entertained. The novel is sure to please existing fans while attracting a whole new set of admirers. Highly recommended.

Bibliography

Nonfiction

  • On Gold Mountain: The 100 Year Odyssey of My Chinese-American Family (1995)
  • 365 Days in China (2007)

The Red Princess Mysteries

  • The Flower Net (1997)
  • The Interior (1999)
  • Dragon Bones (2003) 

Novels

To be published: Apparently Lisa plans a sequel to Shanghai Girls.

Reviewed by Kim Kovacs

This review was originally published in June 2009, and has been updated for the February 2010 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.



This review is available to non-members for a limited time. For full access become a member today.
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Support BookBrowse

Become a Member and discover books that entertain, engage & enlighten!

Join Today!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: The Islamic Enlightenment
    The Islamic Enlightenment
    by Christopher de Bellaigue
    In this comprehensive and well-researched history, de Bellaigue examines the evolution of Islamic ...
  • Book Jacket: The Leavers
    The Leavers
    by Lisa Ko
    The day before Deming Guo saw his mother for the last time, she surprised him at school. A navy blue...
  • Book Jacket: Wonderful Feels Like This
    Wonderful Feels Like This
    by Sara Lovestam
    High school is hard; or perhaps, more accurately, growing up and finding oneself is hard. This is ...

Book Discussion
Book Jacket
The One-in-a-Million Boy by Monica Wood

A richly layered novel of hearts broken seemingly beyond repair and then bound by a stunning act of human devotion.

About the book
Join the discussion!

First Impressions

  • Book Jacket

    The Scribe of Siena
    by Melodie Winawer

    Equal parts transporting love story, meticulously researched historical fiction, and compelling time-travel narrative.
    Reader Reviews

Win this book!
Win The Chalk Pit

The Chalk Pit:
A Ruth Galloway Mystery

A string of murders takes Ruth underground in the newest book in the series.

Enter

Word Play

Solve this clue:

T W Don't M A R

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.

 
Modal popup -