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Pondering the pages – Shanghai Girls by Lisa See

February 25, 2009

Today’s pondering:

shanghaigirls1I’ve been reading Shanghai Girls by Lisa See over the last couple of days and I’m a little over half-way through. I absolutely loved Peony in Love and Snow Flower and the Secret Fan. Both Peony and Snow Flower are great examples of historical fiction transporting a reader to time and place. Those books completely captured my imagination and attention. The world of ancient China is utterly fascinating and comes vividly to life in Ms. See’s talented story telling. This is where Shanghai Girls differs from Peony and Snow Flower.

In Shanghai Girls Ms. See leaves behind the China readers have come to know and moves to modern day Shanghai and the United States (1930s). I’ve been following the lives of sisters Pearl and May. While their parents are fairly traditional these two sisters are modern in dress, mannerisms and world views. They are known as ‘beautiful-girls’ posing for wall calendars and promotional product advertising. They earn money, dress in western clothing and go out with friends. They are living the good life until the world starts crashing around them when their father must sell everything and arranges marriages for Pearl and May to pay off a serious gambling debt. This plan doesn’t go over well with the sisters and they have plans of their own. Unfortunately for Pearl and May things go from bad to worse. Shanghai is bombed and invaded by the Japanese as the sisters and their mother flee for their lives. The journey from Shanghai to the United States is horror-filled and treacherous. They lose everything except each other.

Upon reaching the US the sisters are detained by immigration. They spend months trying to gain entry, due in some part to their own deception, eventually reuniting with their ‘husbands’.  But life in the United States isn’t the bed roses they believed it would be. The adjustments are numerous and rocky. The sisters share a devastating secret that will shatter the foundations of the shaky world they’ve managed to build if it’s uncovered. The sisters have only each other in this foreign land. I’ll stop here and not giveaway any more of the story.

This book is a bit of a departure from her last two. Because of the modern story line I’m not as enthralled as I was with Peony and Snow Flower. Don’t get me wrong it is a very good book and I’m enjoying it immensely. Even though Pearl and May lead modern lives that doesn’t make them any less compelling characters than her other leading ladies, just different. It’s a testament to Ms. See’s writing skills that she moves seamlessly between these worlds blending traditional with modern. I’ll admit I miss the traditionalism, the ancient history and the mystic beliefs of the previous two books. Personally I would love to see her next book go back to ancient China but if you enjoyed Peony or Snow Flower I believe you’ll also enjoy Shanghai Girls. I’m recommending it to my f2f bc ladies.


The worth of a book is to be measured by what you can carry away from it. ~ James Bryce


  1. February 25, 2009 7:51 pm

    I love books set in Asia. I haven’t read any of Lisa See’s, but keep reading good things about them.

    • March 4, 2009 4:17 pm

      I throughly enjoyed Snow Flower and Peony in Love. Shanghai Girls was good but not my favorite of the three I’ve read. I’d still recommend it.

  2. February 26, 2009 7:42 am

    I’m really looking forward to this book. I loved Snow Flower, but wasn’t crazy about Peony – in fact, I didn’t finish it.

    • March 4, 2009 4:20 pm

      I found that parts of Peony got a touch tedious but overall I really enjoyed the book. As much as I did Snow Flower. I think she does a wonderful job writing about ancient China. Shanghai Girls is much more modern so it will be interesting to see what other bloggers think about it once it becomes widely available.

  3. February 26, 2009 1:59 pm

    I have Lisa See’s other 2 books on my shelf and will be reading them. I’ll probably pick this one up just to have it too. It does sound really good.

    • March 4, 2009 4:21 pm

      It is a good book. For me if I hadn’t been as taken as I was with her other books I’d have enjoyed this one much more. It should be a hit with book groups.

  4. March 4, 2009 3:05 pm

    I definitely want to read this one, I’m glad you’re enjoying it!

    • March 4, 2009 4:22 pm

      I expect that giveaways will start cropping up for this one closer to it’s release date. It is a very good book.

  5. March 4, 2009 5:28 pm

    I have been wanting to read this one. I entered a contest from Random House for this one. I quess I am going to have to buy it. I did read Snowflower for my book club a couple years ago. Our book club meeting was great we had a lot to discuss.
    I do have Peony, but I have not picked it up yet. The art work on the cover is great it looks like a photograph. I hope to get it when it comes out.

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