Saturday, November 12, 2011

Shanghai Girls

In 1930's Shanghai, sisters May and Pearl are living the glamorous life of well to do Chinese girls. Immersed in the fast paced world of the city, they obsess about fashion and their career as "beautiful girls", calendar models painted to sell any product you can think of. While they are wrapped up in their carefree existence they fail to notice that the possessions around their house have been slowly disappearing as have some of the servants. Little do they know their father is harboring a terrible secret: he has squandered the family fortune and gotten himself indebted to a local crime organization. The only way to pay his debt? To agree to arranged marriages for Pearl and May with "Gold Mountain Men"-Chinese men who live in America but return to Shanghai for brides. May and Pearl fight try to escape this fate as the political climate around them changes. Invasion from Japanese forces is not far off and when the city is no longer safe, the sisters take the only course of action they have: to flee to America to the husbands they never wanted. Thinking they are free of their difficulties the sisters are about to discover that even more hardships await them as they arrive in America. This is complicated by the discovery that May is pregnant, a secret which can never be told. From the glittering city of Shanghai to the China Towns of California, Shanghai Girls follows May and Pearl on their journey where the only thing they can count on is the bond they have with each other.
My Thoughts:
At the heart of this novel is the relationship between the two sisters, May and Pearl who were living in Shanghai. We get to meet these women when they were young and see how they matured into the women they are today. I don't have a lot of patience for selfish people so my emotions were just on edge as I read May's story, however, she did redeem herself when she helped her sister after a heart-wrenching ordeal while fleeing the city. That being said, I enjoyed learning about the history and culture of Shanghai during the takeover by the Japanese. I also had an appreciation of the hardships many immigrants have in seeking a free and open existence (here in America).  The sequel "Dreams of Joy" should be read along with this book.