Shanghai Girls

by Lisa See

In 1937, Shanghai is the Paris of Asia, full of great wealth and glamour, home to millionaires and beggars, gangsters and gamblers, patriots and revolutionaries, artists and warlords. Twenty-one-year-old Pearl Chin and her younger sister May are having the time of their lives, thanks to the financial security and material comforts provided by their father’s prosperous rickshaw business. Though both wave off authority and traditions, they couldn’t be more different. Pearl is a Dragon sign, strong and stubborn, while May is a true Sheep, adorable and placid. Both are beautiful, modern, and living the carefree life ... until the day their father tells them that he has gambled away their wealth, and that in order to repay his debts he must sell the girls as wives to suitors who have traveled from Los Angeles to find Chinese brides.

As Japanese bombs fall on their beloved city, Pearl and May set out on the journey of a lifetime, one that will take them through the villages of south China, in and out of the clutch of brutal soldiers, and across the Pacific to the foreign shores of America. In Los Angeles, they begin a fresh chapter, trying to find love with their stranger husbands, brushing against the seduction of Hollywood, and striving to embrace American life, even as they fight against discrimination, brave Communist witch hunts, and find themselves hemmed in by Chinatown’s old ways and rules. At its heart, Shanghai Girls is a story of sisters: Pearl and May are inseparable best friends, who share hopes, dreams, and a deep connection. But like sisters everywhere, they also harbor petty jealousies and rivalries. They love each other but they also know exactly where to drive the knife to hurt the other sister the most. Along the way there are terrible sacrifices, impossible choices and one devastating, life-changing secret, but through it all the two heroines of this astounding new novel by Lisa See hold fast to who they are – Shanghai girls.

Praise for Shanghai Girls

"If you're looking for one of those wonderful "take me someplace exotic" books for summer, you won't do better than Shanghai Girls, the latest from novelist Lisa See, who has carved a rich career chronicling the lives of Chinese women. In Shanghai Girls, she takes readers on a lively journey both tragic and hopeful, from the Shanghai of the 1930s to Los Angeles' Chinatown in the mid-20th Century. She renders both settings with loving, precise strokes that create a world her narrator, Pearl Chin, and her sister May fully in habit along with the reader."
--The Dallas Morning News

"Stunning emotional depth"
--San Diego Union Tribune

"Lisa See excels at drawing her readers into the rich history of China and providing her narrators with voices so unique that readers truly know and care about these women within a few pages, if not paragraphs… Shanghai Girls is a graceful, meticulous examination of the lives of two irrepressible sisters, Pearl and May, first in Shanghai, and then in California, from 1937-57… And See, whose writing is as graceful as these "beautiful girls," pulls off another exceptional novel."
-- The Miami Herald

"See's skillful plotting and richly drawn characters immediately draw in the readers, covering 20 years of love, loss, heartbreak and joy while delivering a sobering history lesson."
-- San Francisco Examiner

"Shanghai Girls is … engaging …with many poignant images."
-- The Sunday Oregonian

"[A] compelling family saga…Satisfying on so many levels, See's latest is above all a confirmation of unbreakable family bonds, as two Shanghai girls survive seemingly insurmountable setbacks, both at home and abroad."
-- Bookpage

"A powerful new story."
-- Costco Connection

"Shanghai Girls is a rich work, one that portrays an immigrant experience as well as plumbing the relationship of sisterhood, with its friction as well as its support…See brings their experiences to life with thoughtful and deft prose. The result is as compulsively readable as it is an enlightening journey."
--Sunday Denver Post

"Shanghai Girls is much loftier than its cover art's stunning portrait of beautifully adorned Asian women…The detail is thoughtful and intricate in ways that hardly qualify this book as the stuff of chick lit."
-- Janet Maslin, New York Times

"The author of Peony in Love returns with an absorbing novel set in Shanghai in the 1930s."
--The Times-Picayune

"See is a gifted writer, and in Shanghai Girls she again explores the bonds of sisterhood while powerfully evoking the often nightmarish American immigrant experience…Readers from many backgrounds will see something of their own history in these two sisters who, homesick for their native land and viewed with suspicion in their new one, trudge with determination along the American way."
--USA Today

"This is See at her most compassionate and wrenching."
-- The Sacramento Bee

"See's splendid new novel opens in China in 1937, where sisters Pearl and May work as models…The story delivers an emotional punch as the women journey to the U.S. and struggle to assimilate in L.A.'s Chinatown."
--More Magazine

"[A] book group favorite."
--Bookmarks

"See's emotional themes are powerful but familiar -- the bonds of sisterhood [and] the psychological journey of becoming an American…Shanghai Girls...bravely moves [See's] oeuvre into the challenging terrain of more recent history."
--Washington Post

"An engrossing tale of two sisters… Its ties to Peony [in Love] are strong, to Snow Flower [and the Secret Fan] even stronger."
--Time Asia

"[Lisa See] is the queen of the book clubs."
--National Post, Toronto

"If you're looking for one of those wonderful 'take me someplace exotic and unfamiliar' books for the summer, you won't do better than Shanghai Girls… See masterfully weaves the intimate story of these sisters and their extended family with the larger tales of Chinese immigrants struggling to get along in an unfamiliar, often hostile land."
--Arizona Daily Star

"See's Shanghai Girls is one of those books I could not wait to continue reading, because her characters' stories are so compelling told."
--St. Louis Post-Dispatch

"Fast-moving plot takes readers from glamorous Shanghai to the louse-infested Hong Kong waterfront to Los Angeles Chinatown's ticky-tacky souvenir shops and greasy cafes."
--The Seattle Times

"A buoyant and lustrous paean to the bonds of sisterhood."
--Booklist

"Well-researched and highly readable."
--Ms Magazine

"Rollicking read."
--Marie Claire

"Satisfying on so many levels, See's latest is above all a confirmation of unbreakable family bonds, as two Shanghai girls survive seemingly insurmountable setbacks, both at home and abroad."
--BookPage

See demonstrates the almost life-giving strength women can gain from sisterhood—and the ways in which they can tear each other apart without even trying."
--The Christian Science Monitor

Buy the Book

Where to find Shanghai Girls

Order:



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Read a Sample Chapter

“Our daughter looks like a South China peasant with those red cheeks,” my father complains, pointedly ignoring the soup before him. “Can’t you do something about them?”

Mama stares at Baba, but what can she say? My face is pretty enough—some might even say lovely—but not as luminescent as the pearl I’m named for. I tend to blush easily. Beyond that, my cheeks capture the sun. When I turned five, my mother began rubbing my face and arms with pearl creams, and mixing ground pearls into my morning jook—rice porridge—hoping the white essence would permeate my skin. READ MORE.

Shanghai Girls as Part of LA Literature Project

At Mount St. Mary's College


Lisa See's Shanghai Girls helped to shape the literary landscape of Los Angeles. Click here to view the website on the LA Literature Project. Click here to view the Shanghai Girls website started by students.
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