Review: Shanghai Girls by Lisa See

Time period for Shanghai Girls is 1937-1957. 
Sisters Pearl and May Chin are young, beautiful, and happy, with their life in Shanghai, China. Their father is a business man. Their mother is a foot bound, docile, complacent, superstitious, obedient, wife and mother. She looks to her husband to provide and make all decisions. The Chin family have servants to cook and clean and grow their garden. The girls spend their time planning the next outing in what they will wear and whom they will see. They earn a little money posing for photographs that will appear in advertisements and calendars. They live a seemingly charmed life.Their father announces one day that both girls have been sold for arranged marriages. The sisters are shocked and angered, they plead with their father to not go through with this. Their father demands they be obedient in this decision, it is the only way. Their father has lost everything because of his gambling debts. The girls are to travel via Hong Kong to America. Tickets have been purchased for them by their father in-law. On the day of departure both girls in defiance disobey. Meanwhile the Japanese have invaded China and World War II is on the cusp of beginning.

Pearl and May Chin's story in Shanghai Girls is huge. It encompasses 2 continents, perilous travel, loss of dreams, desperation over loved ones, illness, prejudice, abuse, and poverty.
Their story shows the affects of war: the trauma of bombings, fear of the enemy, starvation, rape, murder, and the inability to protect oneself from the enemy.
Their story shows the highs and lows of their relationship as sisters. They have periods of intense love, and periods where they hate each other. They have jealousy and enviousness. Neither sees the others feelings or loss of dreams, their focus had been on themselves.
Their story shows the prejudice and animosity of white Americans against those who they deem beneath them, or different, or the enemy.

Shanghai Girls is probably 1 of my favorite reads from this year! I loved it.
Several reasons I loved this book (some of the reasons is because this book opened my eyes).
  • I can relate to having sisters that are of differing looks, personalities, dreams, passions. 
  • I can relate to sisters who love each other, yet can be defiant towards one another because of a misunderstanding or ego that got in the way.
  • The horrors of war especially against women who often are used and abused as chattel. It made an impression in me that war is not only the opposing sides fighting each other in battle, but civilians are punished and branded by the hot iron of enemies. 
  • The feelings of many Americans against the Chinese that emigrated to the United States. Fear, mistrust, and ego were displayed in abusing the people who took over servant jobs in the job market. Chinese emigrants worked in restaurants, gardened, cleaned homes, operated elevators, and worked in laundry facilities. They worked hard to earn money that would hopefully help the next generation to be able to be educated and have better earning jobs. 
  • Women now in our generation have so many opportunities for education and career that was not open to them in the 1930's through 1950's. Minority women and or non-Caucasian women who come to the United States from other countries are able to attend college with the use of scholarships and loans. The fact they even have the freedom to enroll and attend school, and work in any kind of job available, is an outstanding achievement. I feel many of us, myself included, have taken this freedom for granted.
Paperback Published February 2010
Hardcover Published 2009
Random House Publishers
336 Pages
China/Emigrate/World War II/Shanghai/Los Angeles/Communist China

Link @ Amazon:
Paperback $10.20
Kindle $9.99

Authors Site:

Second Book in this series:


  1. Hi there, the November edition of Books You Loved is now live. Here is the link Books You Loved November Edition Please do pop by and link in a post about a book you loved. Maybe this one? Cheers

  2. This book blew me away. That scene with Pearl and her still haunts me. I haven't read Dreams of Joy yet, but it's on my shelf. Great review!

  3. Yes, I know exactly the scene you are referring to. I did not say this in the review. But I don't know how Pearl was able to NOT slap May across her pretty face when they had the argument at the end of the book. I guess that's not a very nice thing for me to say, but I got quite riled up!

  4. I have had this on my shelf FOREVER. :) I need to read it.

    THANKS for the review....very nice how you did your review.

    Stopping by from Carole's November Books I Loved. I am in that list as #2.

    Silver's Reviews

  5. Thanks for linking this in. If you pop back in a few days there should be a lovely collection of book links. I have just signed up to follow you. A follow back to Carole's Chatter would be wonderful – or are you already following? Cheers


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