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Shanghai Girls

(Shanghai Girls #1)

3.89  ·  Rating details ·  145,323 ratings  ·  9,751 reviews
For readers of the phenomenal bestsellers Snow Flower and the Secret Fan and Peony in Love—a stunning new novel from Lisa See about two sisters who leave Shanghai to find new lives in 1930s Los Angeles

May and Pearl, two sisters living in Shanghai in the mid-1930s, are beautiful, sophisticated, and well-educated, but their family is on the verge of bankruptcy. Hoping to imp
Kindle Edition, 406 pages
Published May 26th 2009 by Random House
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Jessica There is a rape scene. Although it's not too sexually graphic, it is emotionally traumatizing. I would suggest 20+ years of age. …moreThere is a rape scene. Although it's not too sexually graphic, it is emotionally traumatizing. I would suggest 20+ years of age. (less)
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Dee Anne Near the end this began to remind me of her memoir On Golden Mount. Fine by me as that is one of my favorite books ever.
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Average rating 3.89  · 
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 ·  145,323 ratings  ·  9,751 reviews

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Eileen Souza
I'm re-rating this book up to 4 stars, but with the contingency that it must be read with Dreams of Joy. When read in conjunction with the second book, this book is excellent - really emotionally powerful. Without the second book, you'll be horribly disappointed with the the last 20 pages - and wishing for 350 more. my original review is still below.

Re-reading 5/2011 in prep for the second book Dreams of Joy. In retrospect, my review is fairly prophetic. I'm so glad there's more to the s
Feb 23, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone
Shelves: lisa-see
Lisa’s See’s new novel, Shanghai Girls, provides a rich experience for its readers – taking them from the splendor, highlife, glamour and poverty of 1937 Shanghai to the struggles of Chinese immigrants to survive a virtual internment on Angel Island, off the coast of San Francisco, to the almost impossible challenges of trying to build a life in Los Angeles Chinatown in the context of an America that does not want them and treats them cruelly.

But despite its rich background, Shanghai Girls is ul
Melissa ♥ Dog/Wolf Lover ♥ Martin

OMG! These girls dad sucks! This reminds me of one of her other books with the father!



I liked the story, it did kind of remind me of Snow Flower And The Secret Fan in ways, but I liked that book a lot better.

I can't put my finger on what I didn't love about this book, I guess it just seemed to drag a little bit for me. I have to admit that I almost threw the book when I got to the r
Elyse  Walters
Aug 02, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I can't believe I didn't write a review on this Lisa See book.
This is one of my favorite historical books she wrote. There is a fascinating story in here that many people know very little about!

The plot revolves around two sisters -their privilege life breaks down - 1930's Shanghai -
Their father sell them to loveless marriages --
The 'history' of horrific prejudice & immigration - coming to America was no joke.

After I had read this ( not light and fluffy),
a front page article in our local new
Linda Smith
This book was very disappointing. I went into it eager to learn about this point in history and this should have been a good book considering the premise of the story. I think it started out well and the family and events in China held my interest and seemed well-defined. Still, the tragedies never felt that compelling, and even what should have outraged me when they arrived in the US, never had the impact they would have if better written. I should have gotten angry, I should have cried, I shou ...more
Helen Dunn
Jul 30, 2011 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jun 14, 2010 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This was the third book I've read by this author and I'm still confused as to my feelings for her writing. The first book I read, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, I loved. I think it was all the descriptions and information about the cultural nuances, including foot binding. Then, I was excited to read, Peony in Love, until I actually started it. Then, I thought maybe this book would turn the tide either way. Unfortunately, I'm still ambivalent. It was an interesting enough story: two "modern" si ...more
Lyn (Readinghearts)
Jun 05, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Lynne, Donna, Cam, Leslye, Mary
I fell in love with Lisa See's writing a few years ago when I read Snow Flower and the Secret Fan. As such, I was really looking forward to reading Shanghai Girls when it came out. Initially though, people began saying that it did not compare. So it was with trepidation that I began reading this book, afraid that I would be disappointed. THAT DID NOT HAPPEN. All I can say is that Lisa See has another hit on her hands with this wonderful story of two sisters who emigrate from Shanghai to America ...more
Joy D
Historical fiction beginning in 1937 in Shanghai, China. Two sisters are uprooted from their carefree lives when their father loses the family’s wealth to gambling debts. He arranges their marriages, much to their dismay, which starts a harrowing journey that ends in Chinatown near Hollywood, California. It follows the development of family bonds and the trajectory of their lives as they work hard, attempt to save money for the future, and experience multiple adversities.

The focus is on family
May 25, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
3.5--rounded up.

This is my first Lisa See novel, but I do not expect it to be my last. I understand there is a follow-up novel to this one, and that is encouraging, because I felt this one ended with just too many untied ends. I would like to get to the next installment before the details of this one have faded.

In Shanghai Girls, Lisa See follows the lives of two sisters, Pearl and May. They are caught between the modern society of 1930s Shanghai and the traditional Chinese values that are stil
Ashley Marie
I really enjoyed this peek into Chinese culture and history. For Ed's peace of mind, there are a few instances of tragedy porn a la Kite Runner, but I found this book rather more enjoyable.

It covers Pearl and May's lives growing up in Shanghai, where they don't have to worry about much until their father basically sells them as wives for another man's sons in order to pay off his gambling debts. Amid this, the second Sino-Japanese War is going on, and it takes everything they have in order to g
Apr 06, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Wow. Lisa See absolutely never, ever disappoints. She is an amazing storyteller, and ‘Shanghai Girls’ is an amazing story. I think I forgot to breathe during the last twenty pages.

What a great movie this novel would make. I’d line up to see it.

Recommendation: For a stunning, compelling and captivating read, put ‘Shanghai Girls’ at the top of your to-read list.

2nd best-read of 2009
Spider the Doof Warrior
This book is good, but why is it that folks don't TELL each other stuff? Is it because it makes for a better story? You get a climax when folks find out EVERYTHING in a gush of anger and such.
It' can't be healthy.

I still like this book, but I need to add the fact that does old school China HAVE to be so sad?
Even in the US these poor women get such a raw deal, especially Pearl. Her life sucked the most! All that stuff happens to her in Shanghai, they are practically enslaved by that old man. They
Oct 14, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is the second Lisa See novel that I've read, and both times when I've finished her books I've felt vaguely duped. There's so much historical detail in here, much of it grim, that I feel like I must be reading something sweeping and important. But the character-driven parts of the plot (often about tensions and jealousies in close female relationships) remind me more of...Danielle Steel, maybe? Dare I say it? Something kind of primal and potboiler-y and not too nuanced. So and so is the pret ...more
Aug 11, 2009 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Xiomara Canizales
May 21, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2018-read
Yet another book about immigration, racism and discrimination.
In a superficial layer this book is about two sisters, Pearl and May, their differences, their relationship. Which being honest is all I knew of the book.
However, there is an inner layer. This layer took me by surprise because I wasn't expecting to learn that much of China's history (that mainly because I didn't read the description of the book before reading it). It was so interesting to get the story of another race (not just Latino
Aug 18, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 女性
Lisa See brings out my finest emotions. The array of words is sown deep in my mind without the fear of being uprooted. I have a younger sister; never liked when she was born. I was extremely envious of her robbing all the parental attention. Over the years through our subtle rivalries and treacherous fights we grew closer and protective of each other. Although she is four years younger than me, I feel maternal towards her, trying every possible way to shelter her happiness and smile. I do not be ...more
Aug 15, 2009 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
There's a phrase in Chinese, chi ku (eat bitterness), which Lisa See's Shanghai Girls exemplifies perfectly. From one end of the book to the other, there's nothing but hardships and heartaches.

The first hardship I found is not actually in the story in the novel, but comes from the novel itself. See writes in the first person through the voice of Pearl, a girl growing up in Shanghai during the volatile Sino-Japanese war. Unfortunately, Pearl seems too self-aware of other people's thoughts, motive
Nov 09, 2009 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I'm sorry to say that I thought this book was horrible. As a huge fan of Snowflower and the Secret Fan and of the beautiful characters, beautifully described scenery, tragedies, hardships, and the deep bonds between the characters within it, I went into this book hoping for something of the same. I felt the character development in this book was forced, I thought the story was all over the place, and there was never and deep understanding of the people within it. Maybe it's because I never ident ...more
Aug 25, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shanaghai Girls a novel by Lisa See tells the story of twenty one year old Pearl Chin and her younger sister May . Both girls are modern and carefree living in 1937 shanaghai the Paris of Asia until the day their father tells them that he has gambled away their wealth and that to repay his debts he must sell the girls as wives to suitors who have travelled from Los Angeles to find Chinese brides. As Japanese bombs fall on their beloved city Pearl and may set out on a journey of a lifetime.

This b
Carol Brill
Sep 04, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A saga with well-developed characters and a strong sense of place, set In pre-world war II Shanghai. Sisters, May and Pearl, work as beautiful girl calendar models. They live comfortably until their father gambles away the family possessions to a Chinese American mob-like business man. To repay his debt, he "sells" his daughters into arranged marriages with the business man's sons. As China is invaded, Pearl and May flee for the dangerous journey to America. They encounter brutality that a few t ...more
Good, solid read. Strong storytelling. She's clever to have kept mentioning that the girls' English was 'perfect' because this helped with voice authenticity. Otherwise, the narrative would have seemed too Americanized. On the other hand, I felt let down by the last quarter of the book, and completely nonplussed by the ending. It all felt rushed, as if she was running to the end, and not entirely believable. In fact, I DIDNT's believe it! It just doesn't seem real that in the 1950s a young Chine ...more
Linda Hart
Nov 11, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The novel begins in 1937 Shanghai with 2 sisters in a prosperous Chinese family who are quickly plunged into lives of great adversity, desperation, and heartache. They emigrate to the U.S. where they are detained at Angel Island, San Francisco, and the story is concluded in China Town, L.A. 1957. This is a compelling story, beautifully told with so many threads woven together into a marvelous historical novel. Apparently Lisa See, the author, is writing a sequel which I look forward to reading. ...more
Paakhi Srivastava
Apr 10, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shanghai Girls#1 by Lisa Lee

Shanghai Girls is a Chinese American Odyssey of two sisters. It describes their immigrant experience and the bonds of sisterhood. In deft, graceful prose, See depicts the challenges and hardships -- many unimaginable -- that the Chin sisters face. In the first part of the book, May and Pearl Chin are shown to glide around Shanghai in rickshaws wearing gorgeous, tightfitting silk dresses. They are what are known as "beautiful girls" — models for artists who use their i
Sep 09, 2010 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I have really mixed feelings about this book, it's almost like the book is horrible and beautiful at the same time. The book is told from the perspective of the oldest of two beautiful Chinese sisters growing up in Shanghai during the 1930's. They live a pampered life until suddenly their father loses everything and sells them as brides to two young men from America to repay a debt. The book follows the sisters as they are forced to flee from their native country and find refuge in the home of t ...more
Nov 03, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2015, audible-cd
See has once again grabbed my attention with her detail of a time and culture I knew little about and creating characters that I come to care about. Her writing is so easy that it is not difficult to immerse myself in her stories of a culture foreign to me.

This story follows Pearl and May who we meet as privelaged and spoiled beautiful girls of glittery Shanghai. Naive and so unaware of the political turmoil of their country and the bad choices of their father they are set up in arranged marri
Emory's Defunct Profile
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Kelly Ohl
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Jun 03, 2012 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I picked this one up per a friend's suggestion. I love works of well-crafted historical fiction and a woman in Barnes & Noble said that I might enjoy the novel if I liked Memoirs of a Geisha (one of my absolute favorites).

I had never read any of Lisa See's other works. With Shanghai Girls, she clearly did her homework. There are plenty of authenticating details and the novel touches upon interesting aspects of Chinese/American history that I feel not many would know much about otherwise.

Jul 24, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is quite possibly the most depressing book I have ever read.

I understand that this happened to a lot of people during World War II, the whole rape-sad-escape-sad-angelisland-sad-babydies-sad-ostracized-sad-husbanddies-sad...but dude the entire book is sad and depressing.

The thing is, it's not even sad in a beautiful, emotional way. It's not sad that it will make me cry. It's sad because I'm horrified and angered and all shivery from the horrific scenes painted in such great detail. It's s
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Lisa See is a Chinese-American author. Her books include Snow Flower and the Secret Fan (2005), Dragon Bones, and On Gold Mountain. She was named the 2001 National Woman of the Year, by the Organization of Chinese American Women. She lives in Los Angeles.

Other books in the series

Shanghai Girls (2 books)
  • Dreams of Joy (Shanghai Girls #2)

Articles featuring this book

History is written by the victors, so isn't it up to us to look deeper, think harder, and learn so we aren't doomed to repeat our mistakes?...
6 likes · 6 comments
“May and I are sisters. We'll always fight, but we'll always make up as well. That's what sisters do: we argue, we point out each other's frailties, mistakes, and bad judgment, we flash the insecurities we've had since childhood, and then we come back together. Until the next time. ” 190 likes
“We hug, but there are no tears. For every awful thing that's been said and done, she is my sister. Parents die, daughters grow up and marry out, but sisters are for life. She is the only person left in the world who shares my memories of our childhood, our parents, our Shanghai, our struggles, our sorrows, and, yes, even our moments of happiness and triumph. My sister is the one person who truly knows me, as I know her. The last thing May says to me is 'When our hair is white, we'll still have our sister love.” 169 likes
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