I read a reveiw of a book in the Kansas City paper a couple weeks ago, so I picked up Shanghai Girls by Lisa See at our library a few days later.
My Book Club had read an earlier book of this author titled Snow Flower and The Secret Fan. That book is set in ancient China and descirbes the life of two girls who grew up as friends in a world where footbinding was the norm, and women had no rights. The story was fascinating, the description of the footbinding process heartrending, and it held a veritable treasure chest of historical background.
Shanghai Girls is Lisa See's third novel. It begins in Shanghai in the 1930's. Pearl Dragon and her sister May are Beautiful Girls, the term given to models who posed for calendar pictures. Not the Playboy type, but pictures of pretty girls in different scenes of the Chinese culture of the time. The calendars were popular and used to decorate the walls of the poor peasant homes. The sisters, who were so different in personality, lived a good life in a home with servants and loved their Beautiful Girl job. Carefree and joyful as the young always hope to be.
But then dark days arrive as the father loses all in gambling debts. To pay off his debt, he arranges for marriages to an American-Chinese man's two sons. The girls, of course, are devastated, but they are forced to go through with the marriage, then are to follow their husbands and father-in-law to Hong Kong, where they will all sail for America. Even darker days arrive with the invasion of the Japanese, and the sisters and their mother flee Shanghai.
Through uncontrollable and tragic circumstances, the sisters finally end up in Los Angeles with their new husbands and a father-in-law who is strict and a pennypincher. Life is not as he'd painted for them back in Shanghai. Many events change Pearl and May as they become Americans but still hold Shanghai in their hearts.
The writing is beautiful and Lisa See does a masterful job in bringing us into a place with many sensory details. The story is a page turner, making it hard to find a stopping place as I read. It also gives the reader a picture of what life was like in the late 1930s and 40's for immigrants from Asia, and it's not a pretty picture.
Check out http://www.amazon.com/Shanghai-Girls-Novel-Lisa-See/dp/0812980530/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1270568308&sr=1-1 for editorial and reader reviews on this book and https://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_ss_i_0_14?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=shanghai+girls+lisa+see&sprefix=Shanghai+Girls for information about Lisa See's other books. I think you'll find her work entertaining and enlightening.