This year, my brother and I gave my mom a gift card to Amazon.com for her birthday. This ended up being a gift for me also because she bought Shanghai Girls and The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane and gave them to me after she read them. I was eagerly awaiting Shanghai Girls because I loved Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, and I had heard a lot of good things about See’s newest novel.
I was certainly not disappointed. In her usual fashion, See researched the topic so well that you get an accurate feel for the time period and setting. The novel follows two sisters, Pearl and May, through the years 1937-1957. They are in Shanghai for the Second Sino-Japanese War and the Shanghai Battle, and end up escaping Shanghai to emigrate to the United States to meet their husbands from arranged marriages. Upon arrival in the United States, they are interned at Angel Island with other Chinese immigrant women. When they are finally granted entrance to America, they then face the Chinese Exclusion Act and McCarthyism. I found this story to be a really interesting look at a dark period in American history. It made me want to check out some of the sources listed in the Acknowledgements section to learn more.
The novel is similar to Snow Flower and the Secret Fan in that it explores the role of women in culture and the relationship between two women. Being sisters instead of friends, Pearl and May are best friends and rivals, and the novel centers around the ups and downs of their relationship.
While I enjoyed Shanghai Girls, it didn’t quite live up to Snow Flower and the Secret Fan. The ending is really abrupt and there were some sections where the plot lagged a bit. I would still suggest it to anyone who is interested in Chinese-American fiction.