Today it is my great pleasure to be Lisa See’s host on her TLC Book Tour for her novel, Shanghai Girls. I would like to thank her publisher for sending me a review copy. Please see the end of my review for a list of the blogs who are on this tour with me.
I have a lot of fun working as a tour host for TLC Book Tours. They always have great books and authors on tour. Check out their website for more information on this tour and the others that they are hosting.
Pearl and May are young women growing up at a time just after foot binding was banned and arranged marriages seemed to be heading in the same direction. It was the 1930s in Shanghai, the Paris of the Orient. Pearl is oldest sister and college educated, but May has the love of her parents. She is prettier, has a gorgeous complexion, and can seemingly get away with murder. Pearl takes her role as being the oldest sister seriously and tries not to let her jealousy of May come between them. They are not traditional Chinese women anyway. They are out all night posing as Beautiful Girls. Their painted images used to sell anything and they live as if they own Shanghai. They do until their father’s gambling debts force him to sell them into arranged marriages to a man whose sons lived in America. At the same time, the Japanese attack Shanghai, shattering their hope completely. They need to discover if they are more than simply Beautiful Girls, able to survive whatever fate life brings them.
Shanghai Girls is in equal parts a novel about Chinese life and immigration and the bond between sisters. Just as in Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, Lisa See’s work brings Chinese history, particularly as it relates to women, to life. In this novel, women have more freedom and options under the Republic than they had previously, at least for those women living in as cosmopolitan a place as Shanghai. While these changes are for the good, they bring about additional stress within families. This change in culture is so apparent in the opening scenes with Pearl, May, and their parents. It was interesting to watch their attitudes and beliefs evolve with their life experiences. Still, when you take away the Beautiful Girls, their heritage, and the environments in which they live, you are sisters. They grew up in the same house with the same parents and they each notice anything and everything that is not the same. Who has a sibling and doesn’t do that? What I found exceptional about these particular sisters is how they loved each other so fiercely despite the jealousies and resentments that accumulate over time. They each take their roles as older and younger sister every bit as seriously as their culture once dictated.
War makes up a great part of Shanghai Girls. Pearl and May’s time as Beautiful Girls would have come to an end at the hands of the Japanese during World War II if it hadn’t been because of their father’s weaknesses. This perspective of China under attack is something I haven’t read about before. Even before the war, the scene with the girls stepping over a baby that had been left to die on the street was sickening. When war broke out, it was that much more fascinating and horrific. The fear and chaos came across so clearly in Pearl and May’s reactions to all that they witnessed and survived. As this tied in to the girls’ experiences in Los Angeles as immigrants, I was reminded of Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet. These novels would go together quite well if one wanted to explore the experiences of Chinese immigrants in the United States during WWII.
After reading Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, I bought Peony in Love very quickly. I loved Snow Flower so much that I kept looking at my copy of Peony in Love with longing nearly every time I looked through my bookshelf. I didn’t have to think very hard when I was asked to take part in this tour. I wanted and needed the excuse to pick up another of Lisa See’s books. I was not disappointed in the least. Although there was much sorrow and darkness to this novel, I could not tear myself away. There was one scene in particular between Pearl and her mother which will remain with me for a very long time. It brought tears to my eyes and made me feel lucky to be alive, which is saying quite a lot under the circumstances. I fully connected to this novel as a sister, a woman, and as a human being. My only regret was not being able to make time with this book during the holidays in time to send questions to the author. She remains one of my favorite modern authors.
Lisa See’s TLC Tour Dates
You’ve read what I think about Shanghai Girls. Why don’t you check out what other have and will be saying this month:
Monday, January 4th: Suko’s Notebook
Wednesday, January 6th: Stephanie’s Written Word
Thursday, January 7th: She is Too Fond of Books
Friday, January 8th: Book Club Classics
Monday, January 11th: Luxury Reading
Tuesday, January 12th: Diary of an Eccentric
Wednesday, January 13th: Peeking Between the Pages
Thursday, January 14th: Caribousmom
Friday, January 15th: The Book Faery Reviews
Monday, January 18th: Booking Mama
Tuesday, January 19th: Savvy Verse & Wit
Wednesday, January 20th: Dolce Bellezza
Thursday, January 21st: Book, Line, and Sinker
Friday, January 22nd: Word Lily
Monday, January 25th: The Brain Lair
Tuesday, January 26th: A Lifetime of Books
Wednesday, January 27th: The 3 R’s: Reading, ‘Riting, and Randomness