Today's topic is about a book that my Book Club will discuss later this morning. It's one I read even before it was selected as one for our group. Shanghai Girls by Lisa See was entertaining, informative, and thought-provoking. Not bad to find a book that will cover all that.
Lisa See is an American who is part Chinese in heritage. She has explored her Chinese roots in two previous novels--Snow Flower and The Secret Fan and Peony In Love. I read the Snow Flower book but not the other one. Both books received high praise and the newest one, Shanghai Girls, also had good reviews.
This one is about two sisters, May and Pearl, who grow up in Shanghai in a privileged family. Even so, the sisters work as 'beautiful girls' modeling for photographers. Not sleazy photos but ones to sell products. Even the Chinese of that 1930's era knew that beauty is going to help sell a product. The girls father is deeply in debt from his addiction to gambling, and to pay off his huge debt, he agrees to sell his daughters to Gold Mountain men as brides. These men are Chinese who had moved to Los Angeles and become wealthy. The sisters are horrified and do all they can to avoid the marriages. Their plan to run away is thwared by the invasion of the Japanese army. They flee with their mother, still planning on never marrying the men they were sold to. But fate has other plans for them, and they soon find themselve on the way to America. They are held at a place called Angel Island, a misnomer if there ever was one! They spend months being detained before they can go to Los Angeles where they will finally live with their husbands. The book covers the next twenty years of the sisters' lives with the family they married into, life in the Chinatown of L.A.
It's a book about the bond between sisters that never fully breaks completely, even in the harshest of times. It's about the immigrant experience of the Asian people. The history of the European immigrants coming through Ellis Island on the east coast has been written about in hundreds of books, but the Asian immigrant story has had less attention, though it is no less interesting. Racial problems were a part of the daily life of these Chinese-trying-to-become-American people.
I leanred a great deal about the history of the Asian immigration movement, and I was entertained by a very good story. Lisa See is a fine storyteller, thorough in her research, and bound to write more books that I will read. I'm definitely going to try Peony In Love next. As for now, I'm looking forward to discussing the book with the six other women in my BookClub.