Tuesday, June 23, 2009

"Highminded, but entertainingly semi-trashy"

Shanghai Girls: A Novel Lisa See

See's in DC tonight, doing a reading for this. I wish I could go, but I can't. :(

May and Pearl are sisters, living just outside the International Concession in Shanghai and, even though it's fairly looked down on, they pose for "Beautiful Girl" posters at night. They love their life and then their father gets in trouble with some gansters and loses everything and sells them off to get married. Then they trapped behind Japanese lines during WWII and then escape to LA and live in China town and face the problems many Chinese immigrants faced during WWII and the Cold War, as well as many personal tragedies.

When I was almost done reading this, I saw Roger Sutton's tweet, "Rather be listening to Lisa See's highminded but entertainingly semi-trashy Shanghai Girls." I never would have thought of it that way, but as soon as he said it, that's all I can think of. He's right. May and Pearl's life is tragedy after tragedy after tragedy and fairly soap-opera-y... in the hands of a less-skilled writer, this plot would ruin the book. However, it doesn't. It's a good read and enjoyable.

I liked the relationship between the sisters, they were best friends but still had their grudges and sister-issues. I do really wish I could have seen more of May's side of things. As it stands, we only get her side when she's fighting with Pearl.

My only complaint is one of Chinese history (surprise, right?) The Chinese civil war started before WWII. In fact, they Communist and KMT forces formed a pact to stop fighting each other and start fighting the Japanese (the United Front). Then, once the war ended, they started fighting each other again. As far as Pearl's concerned, the civil war doesn't really start until after WWII. Now, I don't necessarily think this is See's error, because in her party lifestyle life in Shanghai, I could see Pearl not knowing, but it did give me pause.

It's not my favorite See book, but I do recommend it to her fans.

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