Shanghai Girls: A Novel

By Lisa See
Binding:Hardcover
Publisher:Random House, (5/26/2009)
Language:English



Average Rating:
Very Unleashable
4.40 out of 5 (10 Clubie's ratings)


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For readers of the phenomenal bestsellers Snow Flower and the Secret Fan and Peony in Love—a stunning new novel from Lisa See about two sisters who leave Shanghai to find new lives in 1930s Los Angeles

May and Pearl, two sisters living in Shanghai in the mid-1930s, are beautiful, sophisticated, and well-educated, but their family is on the verge of bankruptcy. Hoping to improve their social standing, May and Pearl’s parents arrange for their daughters to marry “Gold Mountain men” who have come from Los Angeles to find brides.

But when the sisters leave China and arrive at Angel’s Island (the Ellis Island of the West)—where they are detained, interrogated, and humiliated for months—they feel the harsh reality of leaving home. And when May discovers she’s pregnant the situation becomes even more desperate. The sisters make a pact that no one can ever know.

A novel about two sisters, two cultures, and the struggle to find a new life in America while bound to the old, Shanghai Girls is a fresh, fascinating adventure from beloved and bestselling author Lisa See.


From the Hardcover edition.
 
 

Old Reader's thoughts on "Shanghai Girls: A Novel"
updated on:11/10/2011



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kfdet's thoughts on "Shanghai Girls: A Novel"
updated on:1/8/2011



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Love2Read's thoughts on "Shanghai Girls: A Novel"
updated on:7/7/2010

My first book by Lisa See and I loved this book. I couldn't put it down. I needed to know what happened.  It's one of those books you can't wait to finish, but then you're sad when you read the last page. I would love to see a follow up book to continue the story of the sisters!

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CagneyC's thoughts on "Shanghai Girls: A Novel"
updated on:6/10/2010

This book is not only entertaining but educational.  Taking place from the early 1930's to approximately the 60's, there is a lot of history of the United States treatment of Chinese immigrants, especially during the 1950's, that is not at all covered in history books.  Early (1800's) US/Chinese relationships are touched on, and the whole concept of the "Paper Sons" was entirely new to me.  The relationships and attitudes between Chinese and Japanese peoples  were also something that was completely unfamiliar, and the relationships between the Chinese Communists and Nationalists were much more completely explained than any history book I have ever read. 
The characters were extremely well drawn, and events well described.  I would like to have a sequel to this book telling me what happened after the book ended.

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Read and Feed's thoughts on "Shanghai Girls: A Novel"
updated on:3/30/2010



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CarolK's thoughts on "Shanghai Girls: A Novel"
updated on:3/25/2010

Though I wasn't gripped by the story, I found it interesting especially the parts about Angel Island and Los Angeles. I am still thinking about the sisters and their relationship so I surmise the author did her job well. The writing style was great. I especially enjoyed the use of smells to evoke moods and reactions. She often juxtaposed a noxious oder with an extremely pleasant one, interesting. I am wondering if See meant to leave the door open for a follow up book. 

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bshimoura's thoughts on "Shanghai Girls: A Novel"
updated on:3/10/2010



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pennelljl's thoughts on "Shanghai Girls: A Novel"
updated on:3/5/2010



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Queenbmel80's thoughts on "Shanghai Girls: A Novel"
updated on:8/12/2009

Great story capturing the relationship between two sisters whose life experiences and tragedies create both a bond and divide between them . This book gave insight into the lives of two young women in China during the years leading up to WWII and how Chinese Immigrants were treated in the United States following the Japanese bombing of Pear Harbor. Shanghai Girls is a great story but is one of tragedy and how that tragedy molds the character and personalities of two sisters.

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Dia's thoughts on "Shanghai Girls: A Novel"
updated on:7/12/2009



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"Shanghai Girls: A Novel"
By Lisa See

Average Rating:
Very Unleashable
4.40 out of 5 (10 Clubie's ratings)


The Gentleman
The Gentleman
By Forrest Leo

 
 
 General reading guide discussion questions to be used with ANY book your book club or reading group might be discussing.
 
 

1. Pearl’s narration is unique because of its level, calm tone throughout— even when the events she describes are horrific. One is reminded of Wordsworth’s reference to “emotion recollected in tranquility.” It is almost as if Pearl is writing in a diary. What was Lisa See trying to accomplish in setting up this counterpoint between her tone and her narrative?

2. Pearl is a Dragon and May is a Sheep. Do you think the two sisters, in their actions in the novel, are true to their birth signs?

3. Which sister is smarter? Which is more beautiful?

4. Each sister believes that her parents loved the other sister more. Who is right about this? Why?

5. Pearl says that parents die, husbands and children can leave, but sisters are for life. Does that end up being true for Pearl? If you have a sister, to what extent does the relationship between Pearl and May speak to your own experience? What’s the difference between a relationship that’s “just like sisters” and a relationship between real sisters? Is there anything your sister could do that would cause an irreparable breach?

6. Z.G. talks about ai kuo, the love for your country, and ai jen, the emotion you feel for the person you love. How do these ideas play out in the novel?

7. Shanghai Girls makes a powerful statement about the mistreatment of Chinese immigrants in the United States. Were you surprised about any of the details in the novel related to this theme?

8. How would you describe the relationship between Pearl and May? How does the fact that both are, in a sense, Joy’s mother affect their relationship? Who loves Joy more and how does she show it?

9. Pearl doesn’t come to mother-love easily or naturally. At what point does she begin to claim Joy as her own? How, where, and why does she continue to struggle with the challenges of being a mother? Do you think this is an accurate portrayal of motherhood?

10. There are times when it seems like outside forces conspire against Pearl—leaving China, working in the restaurant, not finding a job after the war, and taking care of Vern. How much of what happens to Pearl is a product of her own choices?

11. Pearl’s attitude toward men and the world in general is influenced by what happened to her in the shack outside Shanghai. To what extent does she find her way to healing by the end of the novel? Did your attitude toward Old Man Louie change? How do you feel about Sam and his relationship with Pearl and Joy? Did your impression of him change as the novel progressed?

12. The novel begins with Pearl saying, “I am not a person of importance” (p. 3). After Yen-yen dies, Pearl comments: “Her funeral is small. After all, she was not a person of importance, rather just a wife and mother” (p. 246). How do you react to comments like these?

13. Speaking of Yen-yen, Pearl notes: “When we’re packing, Yen-yen says she’s tired. She sits down on the couch in the main room and dies” (p. 246). Why does Pearl describe Yen-yen’s death in such an abrupt way?

14. After Joy points out the differences in the way Z.G. painted her mother and aunt in the Communist propaganda posters, May says, “Everything always returns to the beginning” (p. 267). Pearl has her idea of what May meant, but what do you think May really meant? And what is Pearl’s understanding of this saying at the end of the novel?

15. Near the end of Shanghai Girls, May argues that Pearl and Sam have withdrawn into a world of fear and isolation, not taking advantage of the opportunities open to them. Do you agree with May that much of Pearl’s sadness and isolation is self-imposed? Why or why not?

16. How do clothes define Pearl and May in different parts of the story? How do the sisters use clothes to manipulate others?

17. How does food serve as a gateway to memory in the novel? How does it illustrate culture and tradition both in the novel and in your own family?

18. What influence—if any—do Mama’s beliefs have on Pearl? How do they evolve over time?

19. Pearl encounters a lot of racism, but she also holds many racist views herself. Is she a product of her time? Do her attitudes change during the course of the story?

20. What role does place—Shanghai, Angel Island, China City, and Chinatown—serve in the novel? What do you think Lisa See was trying to say about “home”?

Clubie Submitted Discussion Questions
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Amazon.com Review
Book Description
For readers of the phenomenal bestsellers Snow Flower and the Secret Fan and Peony in Love--a stunning new novel from Lisa See about two sisters who leave Shanghai to find new lives in 1930s Los Angeles.


May and Pearl, two sisters living in Shanghai in the mid-1930s, are beautiful, sophisticated, and well-educated, but their family is on the verge of bankruptcy. Hoping to improve their social standing, May and Pearl’s parents arrange for their daughters to marry “Gold Mountain men” who have come from Los Angeles to find brides.

But when the sisters leave China and arrive at Angel’s Island (the Ellis Island of the West)--where they are detained, interrogated, and humiliated for months--they feel the harsh reality of leaving home. And when May discovers she’s pregnant the situation becomes even more desperate. The sisters make a pact that no one can ever know.

A novel about two sisters, two cultures, and the struggle to find a new life in America while bound to the old, Shanghai Girls is a fresh, fascinating adventure from beloved and bestselling author Lisa See.



Amazon Exclusive: Lisa See on Shanghai Girls

I’m writing this on a plane to Shanghai. For the last couple of weeks I’ve been thinking about all the things I want to see and do on this research trip: look deeper into the Art Deco movement in Shanghai, visit a 17th-century house in a village of 300 people to observe the Sweeping the Graves Festival, and check out some old theaters in Beijing. But as I sit on the plane, I’m not thinking of the adventures that are ahead but of the people and places I’ve left behind. I’ve been gone from home only a few hours and already I’m homesick!

This puts me in mind of Pearl and May, the characters in Shanghai Girls. This feeling--longing for home and missing the people left behind--is at the heart of the novel. We live in a nation of immigrants. We all have someone in our families who was brave enough, scared enough, or crazy enough to leave the home country to come to America. I’m a real mutt in terms of ancestry, but I know that the Chinese side of my family left China because they were fleeing war, famine, and poverty. They were lured to America in hopes of a better life, but leaving China also meant saying goodbye to the homes they’d been born in, to their parents, brothers, and sisters, and to everything and everyone they knew. This experience is the blood and tears of American experience.

Pearl and May are lucky, because they come to America together. They’re sisters and they have each other. I’ve always wanted to write about sisters and I finally got my chance withShanghai Girls. You could say that either I’m an only child or that I’m one of four sisters, because I have a former step-sister I’ve known for over 50 years and two half-sisters from different halves who I’ve known since they were born. Is Shanghai Girls autobiographical? Not really, but my sister Katharine and I once had a fight that was like the flour fight that May and Pearl got into when they were girls. And there was an ice cream incident that I used in the novel that sent my sister Clara right down memory lane when she read the manuscript. I’m also the eldest, and we all know what that means. I’m the one who’s supposed to be the bossy know-it-all. (But if that’s true, then why are they the ones who are always right?) What I know is that we’re very different from each other and our life experiences couldn’t be more varied, and yet we have a deep emotional connection that goes way beyond friendship. My sisters knew me when I was a shy little kid, helped me survive my first broken heart, share the memories of bad family car trips, and were at my side for the happiest moments in my life. More recently, we’ve begun to share things like the loss of our childhood homes, the changing of the neighborhoods we grew up in, and the frailties and illnesses of our myriad parents.

My emotions and experiences are deeply entwined with the stories I write. So as I fly over the Pacific, of course I’m thinking about May and Pearl, the people and places they left behind, the hopes and dreams that kept them moving forward, and the strength and solace they found in each other, but I’m thinking about myself too. As soon as I get to the hotel, I’m going to call my husband and sons to tell them I arrived safely, and then I’m going to send some e-mails to my sisters.--Lisa See

(Photo © Patricia Williams)



From Booklist
Today they would be called fashion models. But in early-twentieth-century China, sisters Pearl and May were known quaintly as “beautiful girls,” whose sophisticated cover-girl images set the standard for young Chinese women and exemplified the hopes of an ancient nation catapulted into anxious modernity as it balanced on the brink of war. Paradoxically, Pearl and May were also the products of a traditional upbringing in which their father controlled their destiny, selling them into marriage to Chinese men from America to settle gambling debts to a depraved Shanghai mobster. The tortuous route they take to first avoid, then accept, and finally embrace their abrupt fall from grace is rife with the most heinous tragedies—rape and murder, betrayal and abandonment, poverty and servitude. Through it all, one thing ensures their survival: the sisters are tenaciously devoted to each other, though time and events will strain this loyalty nearly to the point of destruction. Examining the chains of friendship within the confines of family, See’s kaleidoscopic saga transits from the barbaric horrors of Japanese occupation to the sobering indignities suffered by foreigners in 1930s Hollywood while offering a buoyant and lustrous paean to the bonds of sisterhood. 

Review
-A buoyant and lustrous paean to the bonds of sisterhood.--Booklist


From the Hardcover edition. --This text refers to the Kindle Edition edition. 

Review
“A buoyant and lustrous paean to the bonds of sisterhood.”–Booklist 
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Lisa See is the New York Times bestselling author of Peony in Love, Snow Flower and the Secret FanFlower Net (an Edgar Award nominee), The Interior, and Dragon Bones, as well as the critically acclaimed memoir On Gold Mountain. The Organization of Chinese American Women named her the 2001 National Woman of the Year. She lives in Los Angeles. 


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