38 Book Challenge

Book #20: Shanghai Girls

Title: Shanghai Girls
Author: Lisa See
# of Pages: 336
Genre: Historical Fiction

I have long been a fan of Lisa’s See’s poetic prose. I first fell in love with her writing when I read Snow Flower and the Secret Fan while backpacking in Havasupai in 2008, and the love affair continued with her hauntingly beautiful Peony in Love. Lisa See has a gift for making even the most gruesome event seem poetic, and she writes about the complicated (yet very real) ties that bind us all together in such a fresh way that I’m always left deep in thought by the end.

Shanghai Girls tells the story of two sisters growing up in the wealthy section of bustling Shanghai in the earlier part of the 20th century. Pearl and May seem to have it all: beauty, education, the flirtatious energy of youth, and the backing of wealthy parents; they fight over petty things like clothes and their parents’ affections, and they are convinced they will always remain at the top of their world. All that changes, however, when Shanghai (and all of China) comes under the attack of the Japanese, and Pearl and May are sold off as brides to pay off their father’s secret gambling debt. Shanghai Girls tells the story of their difficult journey out of Shanghai and to the United States, and their struggles and triumphs in a new land.

Okay, I have a lot of mixed feelings about this book. Without question, Lisa See’s writing style will always get my stamp of approval. However, the ending shocked and sickened me, and I almost started crying in the middle of the plasma center as I turned the last pages. Throughout the whole book, I just wanted the main character to be able to catch a break–I mean, SO MUCH bad stuff happens to her, and by the end, I just wanted a happy ending. That said, I could definitely see the merit in the book ending the way it did because it made a poignant argument–even though Pearl had suffered so much (and no one could argue with that), she had let herself become the victim and convinced herself that she could never be happy. It is only when literally almost everything is taken from her that she loves that she finally realizes the truth that was right in front of her all along: she’d been so scared of becoming victimized that she’d never let herself become anything else.

Even though See’s books aren’t emotionally easy rides, they ALWAYS leave me pondering and reflecting on my own relationships and my own emotional bonds. And you know what I realized? The past few weeks, I’ve played the victim card quite a lot by thinking that everything was against me just because I was a first year teacher. And the weirdest thing is, ever since reading this book, I’ve started to actually enjoy my job again (on most days, anyway).

So, if you’re looking for a paradigm shift, check this one out. It definitely worked for me.

My Rating: 4 Stars (out of 5)

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