Shanghai Girls

By Lisa See

A story of two Shanghai teens

Conquering a lifestyle surrounded by war.
"Shanghai Girls" by Lisa See, is an emotional historical fiction novel. Taking place in the 1930's, the novel gives us historical knowledge about Shanghai peoples lives during a war with the Japanese, and the hardship of immigration into the Americas, as well as a page turning plot about two strong girls, and the lives they pursue in this time of Asian warfare. Main characters May and Pearl may rebel against their shanghai conservative lifestyle by partying all night and posing for beautiful girl magazines, but once the bombs explode over them, and the Japanese men are pillaging, and raping their city, they must immigrate to America with fake "paper husbands" to escape death. They're lifestyle slowly changes to living in a fake china town, and starring in films, once seen as a major disgrace to their family.
The Protagonists in this story are sisters May, and Pearl Chin. May is beautiful, and everyone loves her. The story quotes "Her ease, and effortlessness, melts everyone". Pearl is not as beautiful as her sister in her families' eyes. For example she quotes "When I turned five my mother began rubbing my face and arms with pearl creams, and mixing ground pearls into my morning jook, hoping the white essence would permeate my skin. It hasn't worked", and "Im taller than my father, which he loathes. We live in Shanghai, where the tallest car, the tallest wall, or the tallest building sends a clear, and unwavering message that the owner is a person of great importance. I am not a person of importance." The setting for the beginning of the story is Shanghai; a party city for the wealthy, but a slum if you look close enough. Their entire lives they had money, constantly buying clothes, dancing all night, and having cooks in their house.. That is until their father gambles away their entire savings and loses everything they own. This becomes a major conflict, forever changing their lives. Pearl describes her sudden insight of the lifestyle of the slum of Shanghai after losing her money, and quotes "Yesterday this mingling seemed exciting. Today it looks sordid and oppressive". They then, are forced to be "paper wives", and marry two random men in order to pay back their fathers debt. In the middle of all of this, the plot thickens to include a war with the Japanese. As bombs are falling over their city, they go on a long journey, to escape to the Americas. In the meantime Pearl gets raped, the sisters travel on a stuffed boat, and Pearl gives birth to a baby girl. The setting then changes to Los Angeles. Once in Los Angeles, the girls each take on their own personality. May would characterize as selfish and ignorant. Throughout the novel she doesn't pay attention to the war, and becomes an actress, making fun of her own culture and city. Pearl on the other hand is very intelligent. She went to college and works at her "paper father's" stores. She is old at heart, believing in ancient chinese values and traditions like her mother would practice; and her sister would not. Pearl has a difficult time trusting people since she got raped. Later she has to have sex with her paper husband, she quotes "I keep my eyes closed shut, and terror clenches my heart". May is gullible and has sex before marriage which in this time period is an extreme scandal. Both girls are strong. Through this time of need they immigrate to a land they have never been before, and most importantly stay alive. In the story Pearl quotes" Im May's older sister. I have to be braver than my emotions".


David Bowie - China Girl [Extended UltraTraxx Mix Version 1983] by shellydisonfire
I would recommend this book to any lover of historical fiction. The plot is interesting because of how it gives us insight to things that we don't learn the half of in classes. It is an emotional read, and often depressing. It isn't a quick read due to the way that is is written, but it is in fact a page turner. I would rate this book 4/5 stars due to the "slowness" of some parts of the novel.