Monday, June 1, 2009

A Trip to the Far East, The West Coast, and Through Sisterly Trials in Lisa See's "Shanghai Girls

Update on NYC pictures: I promise they're still coming, I'm just having a few technical difficulties with Picasa (really, I'm just out of space) so they've been delayed.

But to tide you over, a review of one of the most talked about books this summer season, from the wildly successful author of "The Snow Flower and the Secret Fan."

Lisa See's latest novel "Shanghai Girls" opens in Shanghai in the late 1930s. Pearl and May Chin are beautiful girls who pose for calendars. One day, their lives changes suddenly when they discover their father has sold them as brides to brothers from America, all to cover his gambling debts. The girls eventually make it to America, only after narrowly escaping the Japanese invasion and the US Immigration Station at Angel Island. The girls enter America with a terrible secret, one that will pull them apart and push them together over the next 20 years of their lives.

This was the first Lisa See book that I've read, and I thought the plot was interesting, along with the perspective of the sisters of their life in America and the discrimination they faced. However, I thought the story was lacking in some of the richness I've come to expect from authors with as much buzz around them as See. The novel felt sparse in places, and would have benefited from some description of the people and places surrounding the women. I also disliked the pacing of the novel in places--it seemed to move much to slowly in the first half, and too quickly in the second half. And the story ended with a real cliff hanger, which left me feeling frustrated as a reader. I enjoyed the time I spent with these characters, so I hope See does a sequel, but it was a let down at end.

If you are a fan of See, I would recommend this book. I would also recommend this if you are a fan of Asian Gothic stories, or if you are looking for a good summer read. There are serious topics in this book, but it shouldn't be too heavy for a summer read.

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