Thursday, July 25, 2013

Shanghai Girls: Book Review

   I have another book review for you guys. This is a sweet and juicy little paperback I snagged from the back of my friend Seri's MINIVAN at our June book club dinner. She is a self-professed book hoarder, and of course we all are, so we love her for it. Thank you Seri! And I still owe you $5 plus however many fresh eggs will pay for those fresh pears. Yum.

   Okay. The book is Shanghai Girls by Lisa See. Published in 2009, it is a New York Times bestseller and a luscious little piece of historical fiction. I thoroughly enjoyed it, right up until the very last word. More on that later.

Shanghai Girls by Lisa See

   Shanghai Girls is set between British-territory China and Los Angeles Chinatown, right as World War II is building pressure and "Communism" is the hottest, most dangerous word anywhere. It traces the coming of age of two Chinese sisters who could not be more different or more complimentary. Their story continues through several decades and along an aching, undulating family saga. It also offers that special ground-level perspective of important historical events, like the Japanese invasion of China and the Hoover-era witch hunt for Communists in America.

   I like historical fiction. I particularly like historical fiction based around the two World Wars; the best samplings tend to be textural, emotional, and revealing of so many moral and social issues that are relevant to us now, all over again. For example?
  • Emigration and assimilation into new places
  • Immigration and the attendant fears and prejudices
  • Unemployment and family communities
  • Liberty versus dependence on the government
  • Cultural evolution
  • Racial tension
  • Legacy versus education and progress
  • Work Ethics
  • The limits to which you would work, lie, or sacrifice to help your children
  • "The American Dream..." and all of its flux elements
   Shanghai Girls did not disappoint. Without tasting academic but in fact just like a good personal narrative, it draws you in and involves you emotionally with the characters. It confuses you with their complex humanity (noone is all good or all bad, after all). It enchants you with scenes of places you have probably never been yourself, certainly of times you have never seen. This is the first book I have read by Lisa See, and I will be happy to find more. She writes succinctly but beautifully...

"I want to say my feeling of disgrace is hard to find,
but I'm ashamed to admit it's hidden 
just beneath the surface of my skin."

   This silly detail bears mentioning: I read the final third of this book over the past couple of nights, while wearing a really long, smooth cotton , beautiful vintage kimono. It's navy blue with white and poppy-red-orange flowers on it.I bought it at a books-and-junk store on the border of Oklahoma and Arkansas, and it is my newest favorite possession. YES I KNOW that kimonos are Japanese and not Chinese. But Japanese culture did play into the story. And anyway I felt feminine and elegant wearing it while reading this feminine and elegant story.

   Okay. I mentioned that I loved the book right up until the last word. As all believable family sagas should, the story has numerous crescendos and lulls. I grew accustomed to the boiling point and then the cool down. I read and luxuriated as the characters matured from girls into women, from fearful children into knowing and capable creatures. And I accidentally prescribed in my head where the story should lead. MISTAKE.

   Anyway, on the night that I finished it, a paragraph dropped me off at one of the boiling points. No biggie. I was excited. Then I turned the page for what I thought would be a new chapter... It was the end! The last twenty or thirty pages of the paperback were acknowledgements and author's notes! AHHH I craved so much more. I needed far more resolution that this provided, and as far as I can tell there is no sequel. So I guess my only complaint about Shanghai Girls is that it left me wanting more of the same. It was just so delicious.

  Do find this book! It's an informative yet transporting summer read. And come back tomorrow for the third and final installment of Unsolicited Advice, Marital Edition.

"I fold the letter and put it back in its envelope. 
There's nothing we can do about any of this from so far away, 
but I begin a chant- something more than a prayer, 
something more like a desperate plea:
Bring her home, bring her home, bring her home."
~Lisa See in Shanghai Girls

I'm linking up with Mama Kat today.
Go check out all the other great submissions!

   And please say some prayers for my book-loving friend Seri 
and her sweet family this week, ok? Many thanks.

1 comment:

  1. I absolutely adored this book, too. If you haven't read her others, give them a try! Dropping by from Mama K's.


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