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Archive 08-19 GR Discussions > Shanghai Girls Discussion

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message 1: by Tera, First Chick (new)

Tera | 2564 comments Mod
Starting a thread for this book.


message 2: by Tera, First Chick (new)

Tera | 2564 comments Mod
I'm not sure the chick who nominated this book is ready to lead the discussion. It shows the book still on her TBR list. I have sent a message but am going to start the discussion a bit until or unless I hear from her.

Bare with me I read this during the summer so I needed a quick refresher but,

Stories about sisters fascinate me and always have. I don't have a sister and often wonder what it would be like to have one. I have friends that I am very close with and feels like a sister type of relationship but then again I don't really know.
So my first question is,
"how do you think Lisa See did capturing that sister relationship?"
and
"Did you have a favorite sister or one that you related to more?"


message 3: by Usako (new)

Usako (bbmeltdown) | 654 comments I will preface my discussion with -- I was greatly disappointed by this novel in comparison to See's other books. And that's what made me sadder since I ADORE Peony and the Secret Fan!

To the questions...away!!

How do you think Lisa See did capturing that sister relationship?
It has been a while since I've read this novel so I'm basing my answer on what I can remember. See captured the sister relationship beautifully. There were many times I wanted to shout at the reckless sister but I did feel engaged in the plot.

Did you have a favorite sister or one that you related to more?
To quote another reviewer, I was drawn more to Pearl, "the older, smarter, less attractive sister." I suppose that is due to being an older sibling myself and having to look after my much younger and reckless brother. I could relate to the frustration and sibling rivalry.


message 4: by Christina (new)

Christina (puppychuao) | 10 comments Is there a reading schedule? These questions seem like they'd be great for after finishing the book. Is there a way to discuss questions along each chapter or several chapters?


message 5: by Amy (new)

Amy | 59 comments Tera, is there a way you can correct the misspelling in this thread's title? I apologize if it sounds really nit-picky, but it just doesn't look good. I know that things like that happen from time to time in these comments...but it is the book title. Thanks for hearing me out.


message 6: by Tera, First Chick (new)

Tera | 2564 comments Mod
Amy wrote: "Tera, is there a way you can correct the misspelling in this thread's title? I apologize if it sounds really nit-picky, but it just doesn't look good. I know that things like that happen from tim..."

absolutely. Sorry I missed that thanks for the heads up Amy


message 7: by Tera, First Chick (new)

Tera | 2564 comments Mod
Christina wrote: "Is there a reading schedule? These questions seem like they'd be great for after finishing the book. Is there a way to discuss questions along each chapter or several chapters?"

With group reads we nominate and pick them 2 months in advance so that everyone has time to get their book and have read it before the discussion. We have tried in the past to break up reading schedules with group reads but it didn't work very well. Most people had read the book by the time the discussions started. We decided to just have open discussions when the book was up and those that were ready to discuss the book would take part.


message 8: by Linda (last edited Nov 15, 2010 10:59AM) (new)

Linda | 443 comments Oh well......I think I'm in the same boat as Christina! Some where on Goodreads I got the idea that there was a reading schedule, etc. when a book was going up for a discussion.

I'd better get reading!


message 9: by Usako (new)

Usako (bbmeltdown) | 654 comments The book flows with some slow sections but if you're a quick reader, likely you may get done in a day or two. I purposely phrased my responses to be somewhat vague without giving away the plot beyond the synopsis.

Hope you do finish to join the reading discussion! I'd love to contrast/compare the themes of Shanghai Girls to Lisa See's other books!


message 10: by Tera, First Chick (new)

Tera | 2564 comments Mod
I've read Snow Flower and the Secret Fan and Peony in Love. I really liked Snow Flower but didn't care so much for Peony.


message 11: by Elena (new)

Elena | 129 comments I listened to the audio because this is the kind of story I am ussually not attracted to. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed the book. I gave it a 5. I agree there some sections that are slow but it is because the author is very descriptive at times of Shanghai and China.

I really liked the confrontation at the end between Pearl and May. I felt that is me who was taking everything out of her chest!

My sisters and I grew apart when we went to college. We all ended in a different place. One thing I am sure of is, their pain is my pain, no matter what.

I look forward to the sequel, Dreams of Joy: A Novel


message 12: by Janice (JG) (new)

Janice (JG) I have only started the book today, but maybe if I carve some time I can get a good chunk read.

As to the questions about the sisters, I thought the observation Pearl made about sisters -- or all siblings of any age -- always being compared to each other was a dead center truth.

The beautiful-girl posters & the wonderfully detailed description of the girls getting ready for their sitting piqued my curiosity -- and yes, there were just such advertising posters made in Shanghai in the 1930's.

Here is a site that sells copies of them:
http://www.zitantique.com/poster.html

They are indeed beautiful girls, and now I have a feel for our heroines.


message 13: by Viola (new)

Viola | 1014 comments I enjoyed Snow Flower and the Secret Fan much more than Shanghai Girls. Still, I am a Lisa See fan, and I went to see her when she did a book signing event for Shanghai Girls. She grew up in the Chinatown that she describes in the book. Her grandfather owned the stores that described. It was really interesting to hear her talk about the book. She confirmed that there is a sequel.

I read Shanghai Girls over a year ago, so I'm working with a shaky memory here. I remember that I was disappointed with the characters. Growing up, I was the oldest of two girls. So you'd think that I'd relate to this book perfectly. But I didn't. I felt like there was something missing. Many parts of the book were very sad, but I found that the narrator's matter-of-fact tone lessened the emotional impact. In other words, I cried in Snow Flower and I didn't in Shanghai Girls. I like to have a stronger emotional attachment to characters in the books I read.


message 14: by Janice (JG) (new)

Janice (JG) There are two books with related stories that might be worth mentioning here. One is The Russian Concubine, set in 1928 in Junchow, in the International Settlement. It is full of excellent details about life in the Settlement & the Old City, with additional background on the Russian presence in China. See's stark descriptions of the streets of Junchow are accurate.

The other book is one I finished just recently -- Honolulu -- which has an uncannily similar point of view. The main character is a picture bride from Korea told in the first person. She also recounts her story in a reasonable and rational tone, free of emotionality. I have heard Alan Brennert, the author, compared to Lisa See in style.

I think the tone works. Anchee Min, who wrote Red Azalea and Empress Orchid and many other excellent stories of China, writes in a similar style, with the narration delivered in a flat, almost monotonous voice. I think it works especially in contrast to the horrors the narrators describe... to me it is a very effective tool


message 15: by Usako (new)

Usako (bbmeltdown) | 654 comments I recommend Empress Orchid, too!


message 16: by Christina (new)

Christina (puppychuao) | 10 comments Brenda wrote: "Tera,
If you need a hand with the discussion, I found this great website

http://www.bookbrowse.com/reading_gui..."


Awesome, I love the depth of the questions on this site. Thanks Brenda. I've just started reading last night. Made it to page 3.


message 17: by Pamela (new)

Pamela Rodriguez (cosita) | 1 comments clarification question - hello could you clarify the start date 11/15 & end date 11/30? I thought this meant start reading on 11/15 & be ready to discuss starting 11/30 but it looks like it means you should read it before 11/15 & the discussion window is 11/15 - 11/30? thanks


message 18: by Shay (new)

Shay | 284 comments Pamela wrote: "clarification question - hello could you clarify the start date 11/15 & end date 11/30? I thought this meant start reading on 11/15 & be ready to discuss starting 11/30 but it looks like it means ..."

I think that Christina also was under this impression, as was I. I think that because there was a schedule for the Chunky Read, I assumed that this would have a schedule too. So, I haven't read it either. I do have my copy and if, between the three of us we can come up with a schedule, we can read it "together". Sort of.


message 19: by Tera, First Chick (new)

Tera | 2564 comments Mod
Yes sorry that wasn't more clear. Chunky reads break it down into a reading schedule. That is why the chunky reads take 4-6 weeks to read and discuss. With the monthly books they are rarely long enough and often aren't broken up into discussable chapters like most of the chunky books are. With our short 2 week schedule we decide to use that two weeks to discuss different aspects of the book because most people had finished or were very close to finishing by the time we even began.


message 20: by Gillian (new)

Gillian | 618 comments I really enjoyed Shanghai Girls. I liked learning about that time in history and Chinese immigrants' experiences as they came to the United States. The only thing that I thought was really weak about the story was the ending, as it seemed really abrupt, but now that I hear there's a sequel coming out this makes more sense.

I have an older sister but our relationship is nothing like May and Pearl's. Maybe it would be if we shared such difficult experiences as they did. Growing up I remember being very competitive with each other. We are 2 years apart in age but we were only one grade level difference, and we had some friends overlap which caused some competition.


message 21: by Linda (new)

Linda | 443 comments Brenda wrote: "Pamela,
We have two books a month. 11/1 to 11/14 and 11/15 to 11/30.
We usually have them read before the beginning of the discussion, so we were raring to go on 11/15.

But, that doesn't prevent ..."


Hi Pamela, I'm on page 55 of Shanghai Girls, so I hope to pop in on this discussion.

Do you know what the next book up for discussion is?


message 22: by Gillian (new)

Gillian | 618 comments Janice Geranium wrote: "There are two books with related stories that might be worth mentioning here. One is The Russian Concubine, set in 1928 in Junchow, in the International Settlement. It is full of e..."

Thanks, Janice, for these recommendations. I love historical fiction that is set in countries different than my own. My TBR list just grew!


message 23: by Usako (new)

Usako (bbmeltdown) | 654 comments Linda,

There is no December Read. Tera posted about that HERE.

However, there is a current nomination thread for Jan's Group Reads HERE.


message 24: by Shay (new)

Shay | 284 comments Linda wrote: "Brenda wrote: "Pamela,
We have two books a month. 11/1 to 11/14 and 11/15 to 11/30.
We usually have them read before the beginning of the discussion, so we were raring to go on 11/15.

But, that d..."


I believe, though, that someone has set up a Buddy Read that starts December 1st for The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver.


message 25: by Linda (new)

Linda | 443 comments Tanja wrote: "Linda,

There is no December Read. Tera posted about that HERE.

However, there is a current nomination thread for Jan's Group Reads HERE."


Thank-you Tanja!


message 26: by Maureen (new)

Maureen (meg9000) | 84 comments Hi Ladies! I am joining you also. Just got the book from the library and started it yesterday and am more than halfway through. So far I am enjoying the book very much, learning a little about life in China and for Chinese Americans. Love learning a bit about Chinese traditions, and am enjoying the colorful expressions such as: doing the husband-wife thing, being visited by the little red sister, and being a woman with 3 holes. Certainly gets the point across.


message 27: by Sandra (new)

Sandra (sandee) | 328 comments I just bought this book yesterday and I cannot wait to start it tonight.


message 28: by Maureen (new)

Maureen (meg9000) | 84 comments Finished the book and found it to be a very good read. I'll tell you, those girls put up with a lot more from each other than I think I would have been able to. Found it very interesting to at last get May's perspective near the end of the book. Don't want to spoil it for those still reading, so I'll wait a little bit.


message 29: by Sandra (new)

Sandra (sandee) | 328 comments Have you all read Snow Flower and the Secret Fan?


message 30: by Gillian (new)

Gillian | 618 comments Sandra wrote: "Have you all read Snow Flower and the Secret Fan?"

Not yet, but I want to!


message 31: by Linda (new)

Linda | 443 comments I have. I thought it was a great book. I haven't finished Shanghai Girls yet, but I'm not quite sure why, I don't get the same feelings as I did with Snow Flower and the Secret Fan.


message 32: by Janice (JG) (new)

Janice (JG) I was surprised to learn of the cultural ritual of lai see -- the collection of jewelry and money and other gifts at the wedding feast that belong only to the wife, so that she can have her own money/valuables to use as she sees fit. I think this is a very civilized idea coming from a culture that had only recently stopped binding women's feet to keep them in control.

This could be a very fair and equable practice to help support any woman who was dependent on her husband's salary for any reason, especially if she chose to stay home and raise her children as her main career, or wanted to go to school and get her degree. Food for thought :)


message 33: by Tera, First Chick (new)

Tera | 2564 comments Mod
Shanghai Girls makes a powerful statement about the mistreatment of Chinese immigrants to the United States. Were you surprised about any of the details related to this theme in the novel?


message 34: by Linda (new)

Linda | 443 comments I both agree and disagree with Brenda. The main difference I think might have been that the Chinese may have had it tougher because of the the very obvious physical and cultural differences. It made it all the more easier to group and discriminate them. Think about what happened here with the internment camps.

By the way, after going on a class trip with my daughter to Ellis Island (great trip, so interesting,) I could somewhat imagine what Angel Island was like.


message 35: by KrisT (last edited Nov 20, 2010 10:51AM) (new)

KrisT | 553 comments I am a little over halfway.I have read both Secret Flower and Peony and this one is just as meaty and gripping I think. I love the authors descriptions of the areas they live, the clothing and makeup, the art and the way they see other people.

How do you think Lisa See did capturing that sister relationship?

I think the relationship between the two girls was very realistic. Part of their closeness came from the dire situations they were in at times and the way their parents treated them. I do think that sisters are a closer friendship than other friends because you are family. You can not turn away from each other when things get tough growing up, because you are still family. Later as an adult it can change somewhat as you move away and so on.

Did you have a favorite sister or one that you related to more?

I myself have 6 living older sisters. I would say that the ones closest to me in age are not favorites just closer because of age. I have one niece that is one year younger than me and she is much like a sister also.

From the book: I have to say so far they are pretty equal. At the halfway point they have both had to pull the other up. I will see if this changes as I read more.

Shanghai Girls makes a powerful statement about the mistreatment of Chinese immigrants to the United States. Were you surprised about any of the details related to this theme in the novel?

I was surprised about a few things. First I didn't know what a 'paper son' was. I didn't realize it was so hard to get through immigration and I didn't know they had such things as coaching books. It seems that things have to be just so but what that is is up for grabs in the US.
Part of the extreme unreasonableness of the immigrations process I think was because of Japan at that time. I think all Asians were looked down upon whether they were born in the US or not. What I found interesting was how many of the Chinese living in the US wanted to just go home. The girls mentioned when they got to Old Louis and his sons, they thought the place was filthy and smelled. The conditions, I am sure were not good. Thinking of what they left behind and what they were now facing and wanting to go back to some degree must mean the conditions were horrible. Of course having a father in law like Old Louis and the family right there all the time was probably no picnic either.


message 36: by KrisT (new)

KrisT | 553 comments A question:

The girls themselves but the chinese culture also puts a lot of emphasis on the year they were born and what sign they are under. Do you think they rang true for the characters in the book? Do you pay attention to your zodiac sign and check your horoscope?


message 37: by Linda (last edited Nov 20, 2010 11:14AM) (new)

Linda | 443 comments I think the emphasis they put on astrology influenced their perspectives.

"Do you pay attention to your zodiac sign and check your horoscope? "

I used to. I studied with an astrologer for five years. I learn how to do charts and all the aspects of the signs, planets and houses. It was much more in depth than reading your horoscope. That being said, I don't pay attention to either now!


message 38: by Linda (new)

Linda | 443 comments Brenda wrote: "Linda wrote: "I both agree and disagree with Brenda. The main difference I think might have been that the Chinese may have had it tougher because of the the very obvious physical and cultural diffe..."

I agree!


message 39: by Usako (new)

Usako (bbmeltdown) | 654 comments I wasn't surprised by the mistreatment. I've read and watched plenty of books/videos about the immigrants coming into the US. I do like how she expressed it.

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet addresses how they were put into camps during WW II. Haven't read it but wanna soon.


message 40: by Irene (new)

Irene | 4135 comments Well, I am going to jump in. I read this over the summer. I both was and was not surprised by the difficult experiences faced by the immigrants. I know enough American history to realize that many ethnic groups faced difficulties during the period of excellerated migration. Waves of new comers with different languages and cultural practices threatened those already here. And, it is a common reaction by those on the bottom of any social group to want to find someone to shift beneath themselves as a way of boosting status. European groups had the advantage of a bit of cultural familiarity. Germans, Italians, Poles, French, not only shared physical characteristics, but their people had interacted, intermarried, migrated across borders and engaged in trade for centuries before interacting in America. That was less true of Asians. It did not help that Americans of European descent could not distinguish between their Chinese alies and Japanese enemy. At the same time, I am surprised at the variations of experiences between each immigrant group. Depending on country of origen, date of arrival, location of settlement, etc, experiences were unique.

The part that bothers me is that the discrimination continues. Many readers can feel sympathy for fictional characters, particularly when the setting is in the past. But, many newly arriving immigrants today (e.g. Mexicans, Arabs, Hatians, etc) are facing similar fear, discrimination, disorientation, and the like. I wonder if our grandchildren will read about the experience of an immigrant family in 2010 and feel a sympathy that many can not feel today.


message 41: by Marialyce (absltmom, yaya) (last edited Nov 21, 2010 06:19AM) (new)

Marialyce (absltmom, yaya) I read Hotel as well and thought it was basically a love story without too much about the interment camps. Better books about that subject are: Baseball Saved Us andThe Eternal Spring of Mr. Ito

I used these books with my sixth and seventh grade literature classes.


message 42: by Tera, First Chick (new)

Tera | 2564 comments Mod
Irene wrote: "Well, I am going to jump in. I read this over the summer. I both was and was not surprised by the difficult experiences faced by the immigrants. I know enough American history to realize that ma..."

That's an interesting post Irene. I think the topic of immigration is all about perspective. Reading Shanghai Girls of course I felt sympathy for these sisters and the families in general as they faced the fears of immigration. On the other hand living in a border state today and seeing nightly the terror that many border towns are facing because of the violence with Mexico I also understand that perspective. It's a tricky topic for certain and I'm not sure one made any clearer today than it was then.


message 43: by Linda (new)

Linda | 443 comments I finished Shanghai Girls this morning and really liked it. One thing, and those of you who have also finished it will know what I mean when I say, I REALLY hope there is a sequel!

That being said, I think Lisa See captured the essence of sisterhood perfectly. I have a sister 14 months younger than me. However I'm not quite sure I would have been as patient as Pearl was with May. In fact, I know I wouldn't! I thought that May was very self serving and somewhat manipulative. But then again, this book is written in Pearl's voice. Needless to say, Pearl was my favorite sister.

I thought it was interesting how as life progressed Pearl started to see much of her mother in her own self. I'll speak for myself when I say as we get older, we can look at ourselves and see these things. I'm lucky to say, in my experience it's not a bad thing.


message 44: by Janice (JG) (new)

Janice (JG) Irene wrote: "The part that bothers me is that the discrimination continues. Many readers can feel sympathy for fictional characters, particularly when the setting is in the past. But, many newly arriving immigrants today (e.g. Mexicans, Arabs, Hatians, etc) are facing similar fear, discrimination, disorientation, and the like. I wonder if our grandchildren will read about the experience of an immigrant family in 2010 and feel a sympathy that many can not feel today. ..."


Good point. I'd like to think that part of the value of reading books like this one is to raise awareness of cultural differences & differentness in general, and to humanize our response to groups that we (still) tend to stereotype.


message 45: by KrisT (new)

KrisT | 553 comments Just for fun since this is a huge theme throughout the book, here is a link to the Chinese Zodiac so you can see what animal you were born under.

http://www.chinesezodiac.com/index.php


message 46: by Penny (new)

Penny (Literary Hoarders) (pennyliteraryhoarders) I read this book for our little Book Club and it was wonderful. Once again, I really enjoyed how See tells the story from the one sister's perspective and then at the end flips it all around to see it from the other sister's perspective. Wonderful stuff! Just like she did in Secret Fan. This was a very enjoyable read and I hope the group likes it as much as I did!


message 47: by KrisT (last edited Nov 22, 2010 07:37AM) (new)

KrisT | 553 comments I finished the book this morning. I am glad it will continue into a sequel also but I didn't feel it was hanging as much as some of you felt. I think this is one of those stories that is meant to be thought over before we find out what the author meant.

One of the things that has already been mentioned is the conflict between Pearl and May. Now that i finished I see what everyone meant but I also see there really were two sides to the coin. We saw Pearl's pov because she was telling the story but May brought up valid points. May suffered and sacrificed too that we never got the whole picture of. Did she betray Pearl or is that just Pearls skewed view point? Is all the story skewed? Do we accept what we were told by Pearl or do we accept into the story what could have been May's pov? I am still trying to digest this but have to head off to work. More later.


message 48: by KrisT (new)

KrisT | 553 comments I almost forgot. I worked for a Japanese woman several years ago. She was so amazed that I could not tell the difference between her and other asians. She tried to tell me the traits to look for but you have to really look someone over if the distinction is not just skin and build. She told me the brow shape, eye shape of course, nose shape and lip shape are very distinct. I can't grasp that is just a look so I could not get it totally. sigh


message 49: by Tera, First Chick (new)

Tera | 2564 comments Mod
The novel begins with Pearl saying, "I am not a person of importance." After Yen-yen dies, Pearl comments: "Her funeral is small. After all, she was not a person of importance, rather just a wife and mother."

You can make the argument that those statements reflect the time or the Asian culture at the time but how do those statements cross over to women as a whole to women in America or other countries. Do you think that is a preception still held today? Is it a preception of society or of women? Who determines the value or self image of a person? Is it other women that define women? society as a whole? or each singular woman?

(you don't have to answer all of those questions obviously I am mostly curious how this book makes you think of society's definition of women and women's definaiton of women and how they relate to you to the time and to the book)


message 50: by Shay (new)

Shay | 284 comments Tera wrote: "The novel begins with Pearl saying, "I am not a person of importance." After Yen-yen dies, Pearl comments: "Her funeral is small. After all, she was not a person of importance, rather just a wife a..."

I would say that the view that women are inferior is still predominant in the Asian culture. Not necessarily an evil intent, but paternalistic. In the sense of women are in need of protection and guidance. (Probably in large part because of the belief that women are inferior.) It then becomes a self-perpetuating thing whereby women don't get educated, make money and therefore are less valuable to parents. So, you get infanticide of female children or some "humane" form of getting rid of unwanted female children. I know many people in Hawaii who've adopted girl babies whose mothers come to Hawaii to give birth and leave the girls.

In less striking ways, this happens to American women too. Female dominated professions make less money- you can have a master's degree in education and make less money than a high school graduate working construction. (Well, when there were construction jobs, but still...) It also occurs in less obvious ways like I bet more money was spent developing Vigra and Cialis than has gone into research on finding a cure for ovarian cancer.


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