[Book Club] Shanghai Girls

by Lisa See

I'll be truthful, I know very little about Chinese history in the United States. I vaguely recall mistreatment over the building of railroads and Angel Island. I actually only learned about Angel Island because it was a small blurb in a ninth grade vocabulary book. You know, when they want to use the words you've learned in context, so they come up with paragraphs for you to find the words in. (Actually...how awesome would that job be?) I picked up Shanghai Girls from the leftover books one of the teachers leaving here left, mostly because the spine was pink, and I was curious about the mystery promised in the summary.

BASIC SUMMARY: The book spans the lives of two young women, Pearl and her younger sister, May, from their early adulthood in the thirties to middle age in California in the sixties. See takes us from the glory of Shanghai to the Japanese invasion to immigration to living through discrimination in the US. It's written more for young adults, and it's written more to showcase the long journey Pearl and May take than to focus on specific moments. After all, it covers about 20 years in roughly 300 pages. Gone with the Wind covers 10 years in 4x that amount. It's not necessarily a happy story either, but it's not totally tragic and there's hope within the moments that are. 

THOUGHTS: Because I have very little understanding of Chinese-American history, and I have no ancestors to ask, I found this book fascinating. See has very clearly studied her roots, and this book serves more to explain the C-A history than as anything else. In terms of knowledge, it's the perfect introduction to encourage more study. In terms of book hangovers and being emotionally rewarding, I did find it a little lacking. Although one might argue, the brisk pace and tonal neutrality from the narrator enhances the horror of the events, I did not find it to be so. Pearl explains family loss, forced marriage, rape, injustices, suicides, and so much more in such a brisk way that I didn't have a lot of time to absorb her emotions before a few years have passed and something else happens. 

Definitely read the book, though, and see for yourself. I'm also the kind of person that relishes long paragraphs spent observing minute moments.   


  1. Hmmm interesting. Debating whether or not to give this a read. Did you get emotional attached at all? The plot looks intriguing but I do prefer books with a good hook and not too too much description.

    Andrea | http://nomoneywilltravel.com

    1. Definitely read! I became attached to Pearl, and you may become attached even more if you don't prefer too much description!