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.
Pages: 528 (Hardback, large print edition)
Rating:6 out of 10
Source: Borrowed from the public library.
I am not sure why it took me so long to write my review of Shanghai Girls by Lisa See. I finished the book during the first week of March while on vacation in fabulous Puerto Rico, but have been slow to write my review.
I read the book to prepare for a book club meeting. Right away, I was drawn into the story. I liked reading about the bond between the two sisters, Pearl and May. I also learned a lot of history about China during the war time. During the book club discussion, we all agreed that the book was moving, but the ending left something to be desired. I wanted the ending to stretch out like the rest of the book instead of feeling scrunched together.
Since I am an older sibling, I related more to Pearl's feelings of responsibility and obligation towards her sister May. I also felt sympathy for her in the interactions between her and her parents. I appreciated that she managed to fall in love with her husband and worked to give the best life to her daughter. However, I found myself wishing that she had not kept Joy so ignorant of her past. As a result, I think that Joy's blissful ignorance led her to make some poor and selfish decisions. One of the universal themes of the book is how our desire to protect our loved ones from a painful past has the unintended consequence of creating a scary future.
The book counts for the following challenges:
Global Reading Challenge: part of the book was set in China.
What's in a Name Three: It fulfills the place category.
Women Unbound: The story centers around two sisters trying to make their way in the world after tragedy strikes.