Shanghai Girls by Lisa See

Shanghai Girls by Lisa See examines the relationship between sisters, May and Pearl, their immigration story from Shanghai, China, to Los Angeles, Calif., and the political changes between the 1930s and 1950s.  Pearl was born under the sign of the Dragon, and May was born under the sign of the Sheep.  Do these signs define who they are?  Will they guide their fate?

“Mama insists May and I couldn’t change who we are even if we tried.  May is supposed to be as complacent and content as the Sheep in whose year she was born.  The Sheep is the most feminine of the signs, Mama says.  It’s fashionable, artistic, and compassionate.  The Sheep needs someone to take care of her. . . I have a Dragon’s striving desire, which can never be properly filled.  ‘There’s nowhere you can’t go with your big flapping feet,’ Mama frequently tells me.  However, a Dragon, the most powerful of the signs also has its drawbacks.  ‘A Dragon is loyal, demanding, responsible, a tamer of fates,’ Mama told me. . . ”  (Page 9 of the hardcover)

Considering themselves modern Chinese ladies in Shanghai and shunning the old ways of their ancestors, Pearl and May become painted, beauties on calendars that sell products ranging from tobacco to other household goods.  Pearl has a crush on the painter who makes the calendars, and despite being the older sister, often loses sight of her sister’s actions and whereabouts.  Soon, their world is blown apart when the secrets of their father’s gambling are revealed and they are sold into arranged marriages with Chinese-Americans.  Still, these young sisters dream of escape and willfully defy their parents’ wishes, only for the fates to step in and force them to honor their original plans to meet their husbands in America.

The ravages of war hit home in Shanghai as the Japanese invade China, and the Communists flee to the hills of China.  Lisa See deftly interweaves the political backdrop of China and the world at large behind the more present plight of the Chin sisters.  Through a series of twists and turns that mirror the rise and fall of political powers across the globe, Pearl and May face adversity together, but both emerge vastly changed.  Reminiscent of Amy Tan‘s writing about mothers and daughters, particularly the clashes of old and new cultures, See grabs hold of the sisterly relationship to shed light the joys, sorrows, painful moments, and sacrifices that only sisters can share and feel deep down to their core.  Larger issues of discrimination and political dissension also are prevalent themes.

Overall, Shanghai Girls is a deep novel that will lend itself to animated discussion among book clubs.  Readers will enjoy unraveling the family secrets of the Chin women and their new families, and be exposed to the intricate and complex political and social dynamics of some of the most turbulent times in world history.  Not only have these women grown through adversity and sacrifice, but they are sent on a journey to discover what it means to be family.

How I’ve missed reading Lisa See before, I have no idea.  But she’s an author I hope to read more of in the future.

To Enter to win 2 copies of Shanghai Girls by Lisa See (U.S./Canada only):

1.  Leave a comment on this review about what intrigues you about this novel.
2.  Leave a comment on my interview with Lisa See.
3.  Blog, Tweet, Facebook, etc. the giveaway.

Deadline is Jan. 26, 2010, at 11:59PM EST

About the Author:

Lisa See is the New York Times bestselling author of Peony in Love, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, Flower Net (an Edgar Award nominee), The Interior, and Dragon Bones, as well as the critically acclaimed memoir On Gold Mountain. The Organization of Chinese American Women named her the 2001 National Woman of the Year.  She lives in Los Angeles, California.  Please check out her Website.  Read an excerpt of Shanghai Girls, here, and for book clubs, there are discussion questions.

I also interviewed Lisa See, here.

This is my 4th book for the 2010 New Authors Challenge.

If you are interested in the rest of the tour stops for Shanghai Girls by Lisa See, I encourage you to check out the TLC Book Tour site.

FTC Disclosure:  I received my free copy of Shanghai Girls by Lisa See from Random House and TLC Book Tours for review.  Clicking on title and image links will lead you to my Amazon Affiliate page; No purchase necessary, though I appreciated.


  1. The story itself intrigues me. I am eager to know about the fate of the girls.

    aikychien at yahoo dot com

  2. I left a comment on your interview.

  3. Shanghai has intrigued me ever since I was a little girl so when I saw this book I got very excited. Please enter my name in your draw. Thanks.

  4. I'm not sure what it was about this book that caught my interest. It's not my normal genre. I just happened to read an excerpt when the hardback was coming out and it made me wonder what happened to them. Since then, I've heard so many people rave about Lisa See's books that now I really want to try one. Shanghai Girls sounds like a great one to start with to me. :0)

    librarygrinch at gmail dot com

  5. I cannot wait to read this book! I read Snow Flower and the Secret Fan and loved it! I loved See's writing style and I love that she writes about historical China, researching the traditions and bringing the story to the modern world. I would love to be entered because all her other books are on my wish list! Thanks for hosting!

    tiftalksbooks at gmail dot com

  6. I tweeted:


    saemmerson at yahoo dot com

    Sarah E

  7. I am intrigued by the discrimination these Chinese immigrants face in America as well as their ties to their ancestral heritage.

    Please enter me in this giveaway!

    saemmerson at yahoo dot com

    Sarah E

  8. Dawn @ sheIsTooFondOfBooks says

    No need to enter my name in the giveaway, I also read/reviewed this recently.

    I love SNOW FLOWER AND THE SECRET FAN, and have PEONY IN LOVE on my ever-growing wish list 🙂

  9. Thanks for this great giveaway. Love the review. saubleb(at)gmail(dot)com

  10. Denny, Alaska says

    I am intrigued by the book's historical setting: pre-WWII China. Thanks for entering me!


  11. I loved, loved SNOW FLOWER AND THE SECRET FAN BY LISA SEE. I would love to read Shanghai Girls.


  12. Not entering, as I've read this. Have you really not read her other books? Peony in Love is my favorite…the book went places I never even considered (in a good way!).

  13. I have three sisters. some of those relationships are dreamatic, but one of them is my best friend. I'm always intrigued by how sisters are written. Thanks for the giveaway.

    s.mickelson at gmail dot com

  14. avisannschild says

    I commented on your interview too!

  15. avisannschild says

    The fact that you compare her to Amy Tan makes me want to read this book. Plus I love books about sisters. Please enter me!

  16. Great review, I've had this on my TBR list for a while, especially after reading snow flower and the secret fan. Lisa See is a talented author, and I plan on reading this soonish (Mount TBR be damned!) No need to enter me, just wanted to drop in and say hi.

  17. Scrappy Cat says

    This sounds like an awesome book – I read another book by Lisa See (Snow Flower and the Secret Fan) and I loved it. In fact, I reviewed it on my blog here:


    I would love a chance to read this book.

    csgebhart at gmail dot com

  18. This book interests me because I've heard so many good things about Lisa See and I've never read anything about her, and also because I feel I could learn a lot about chinese culture.

    boredd09 at gmail dot com

  19. A Bookshelf Monstrosity says

    I tweeted:


  20. A Bookshelf Monstrosity says

    I recently read my first See novel (Snow Flower) and I'm now slightly obsessed with reading her other books! She is so wonderful. Thanks for the giveaway.


  21. Don't enter me. I just wanted to pop in and say that I loved this book too!! See is one of my favorite authors!

  22. Susan Helene Gottfried says

    No need to enter me, darling. I'm dropping in to say thanks for the e-mail. I've got this posted at Win a Book for you.

  23. I would really like to win this book because I am just reading
    Snow Flower and would like to
    have both novels.

    cenya2 at hotmail dot com

  24. Great review. Glad you loved it, too, and it was fun chatting about it over lunch.

    No need to enter me, of course, but I put it in my sidebar.

    Diary of an Eccentric

  25. Excellent review, Serena! Thank you so much for all the time spent reading and reviewing Shanghai Girls. I am so happy you enjoyed it.. Lisa See is one of my very favorite authors!

    Thanks again! Off to read the interview..

  26. Great review Serena. I don't know how I haven't read Lisa's other books either but I'm going to. I'll post your giveaway on my sidebar.

  27. gautami tripathy says

    I gotta read Lisa See one of these days!

    Teaser Tuesdays: Tintin and the secret of the Unicorn by Herge

  28. bermudaonion says

    Oh my gosh! I love Amy Tan's work, so I'm sure I'd love this. I've got to read it soon. No need to enter me.

  29. I do not have a sister, but I've always enjoyed novels wherein a relationship between sisters is an intricate part of the plot. I think the aspect of being born under a certain sign is also interesting to consider. Thanks for this giveaway.

  30. thekoolaidmom says

    I'm beginning to feel like I'm behind the times because I havent' read any of See's books even though I have her last three on my shelf. Of course, Shanghai Girls looks great. Maybe I'll have to make a point to read her books next year.

  31. amanda18228 says

    I tweeted. http://twitter.com/amandawk/status/7944377747
    amandarwest at gmaildotcom

  32. amanda18228 says

    I am intrigued to find out how the wars affected people in China.
    amandarwest at gmaildotcom

  33. Sandy Nawrot says

    Nice review! I just won this book from Anna, and I cannot wait to read it! I have a handful of other commitments first, but this is one of those "must read" books for 2009/2010. Julie @ Bookingmama also just did a great guest post with the author about her talking to book clubs, which would be amazing.

  34. I have recently become interested in how a child's horoscope or reading (China, India etc) can play a role (or set expectations) for the rest of their life. Cast as well. I would love a chance to read this book, thank you for the contest!