6 Nov 2010


Last month I joined yet another book club. Come to think of it we didn't actually give ourselves a name, so, as we are a reading group that meets in the Oxford Centre here in Longbenton, the Oxford Centre Readers Group (OCRG) sounds, as well as logical, as good as anything. Anyway, onto my review of our first book.

Shanghai, 1937, Pearl and May are two sisters from a bourgeois family. Though their personalities are very different - Pearl is a Dragon sign, strong and stubborn, while May is a true sheep, adorable and placid - they are inseparable best friends. Both are beautiful, modern and living a carefree life ... until the day their father tells them that he has gambled away the family wealth, and that in order to repay his debts he must sell the girls as wives to two 'Gold Mountain men': Americans.

As Japanese bombs fall on their beloved city, the two sisters set out on the journey of a lifetime, one that will take them through the villages of southern China, in and out of the clutches of brutal soldiers, and even across the ocean, through the humiliation of an anti-Chinese detention centre to a new, married life in Los Angele's Chinatown. Here they begin a fresh chapter, despite the racial discrimination and anti-Communist paranoia, because now they have something to strive for: a young, American-born daughter, Joy.
..... From the outer back cover.

FIRST SENTENCE: "Our daughter looks like a South China peasant with those red cheeks," my father complains, pointedly ignoring the soup before him.

MEMORABLE MOMENT: A funeral is the most important event in a person's life - more significant than birth, a birthday or a wedding.

From my review of this book anyone would be forgiven for thinking that I hadn't enjoyed Shanghai girls and yet I did - quite why I don't know. Probably because of the historical content, the finding out about another culture rather than the characters who, apart from the odd exception, I was passionate about even though I found them truly awful (if that makes any sense).

Quite an eye-opener, I found several aspects of this story quite shocking and found myself constantly have to mentally remind myself that this was a story set in another time, another place. Apart from the casual racial abuse and the way we were constantly reminded that women were most definitely second class citizens, the thing that I found incredibly disturbing were the scenes in which Pearl and May's mother's foot binding was mentioned.

..... but the odor suffocating us comes not from spilled nightsoil or day-old shrimp but from her. Since we don't have our servants to keep the air moving in the room, the smell that rises from the blood and pus that seep through the bandages holding Mama's feet in their tiny shape clings to the back of my throat.

Well written and obviously well researched, Shanghai Girls is a fascinating read that gives a real insight into how life must have been at this time, difficult. And yet I can't help but think how overly depressing it all was and found myself wishing that the author would bring some joy into the lives of the characters as every time something potentially good occurred, it nearly always turned out to be for the worst.

As I said an interesting read with an ending that is left wide open (perhaps with another book in mind?) -  I'm sure the story of Pearl, May and Joy is likely to continue. Would I read any such book? Probably though I certainly wouldn't buy a copy.


Misha1989 said...

I really want to form a bookclub. But noone seems interested !
Thanks for the review!I had read the book quite a while back and almost forgotten it. I agree that its an eye-opener.

Mary said...

When I finished reading this book I emailed the author to ask if a sequel was planned. I felt the book ended so abruptly and needed some resolution. She replied that yes, a sequel is planned.
I enjoyed the book but not as much as the author's Snowflower and the Secret Fan.

Nina said...

Hi, You've been tagged! :)


Anonymous said...

It seems to be my kind of book. Let me try to search it in our library...

thank you

SG said...

Thanks for the nice review. Will keep this book in mind.

Kristina Barnes♥ said...

I'm kind of jealous of you, Tracy. I've never joined a book club, because the only ones in my area are 40+ year old women who read copious amounts of romance novels. I want to join one. :(

Anyway, reading this review kind of reminded me of Memoirs of a Geisha. (not saying that they're similar, it just reminded me of it). They both had hardships, both were "sold", both faced adversity, and both had elements of feet binding that horrified me. =x Anyway, excellent review. :)

Oddyoddyo13 said...

Ah, one of those loves it/loves to hate it...I wasn't particularly thrilled when I read the storyline, to be honest. It sounds really depressing!

(Another book club?! Amazing! I can't read a paragraph as fast as you can read a whole book!)

Thanks for the review!

Martha@A Sense of Humor is Essential said...

Another bookclub, how wonderful, dear Pretty Wit!
I read about this book, am familiar with Lisa See, a skilled writer for sure.
I went and checked out waaaay too many books from the library but am halfway through "Anonymous Rex" by Eric Garcia, (about a "B+" so far), and then off to start the Dr.Siri detective series set in Vietnam by Cotterill.
Thank you, my best to you and your Dh.

Kelly said...

I'm not really sure if this appeals to me or not. Probably not if there is going to be a sequel. It does sound a tad depressing.

Enjoy the new bookclub!

Suko said...

The cover on my copy of Shanghai girls is different from yours, features only the faces of these
"beautiful girls". I thought this book was fascinating as well, and I felt so lucky to be part of TLC's book blog tour for this work at the beginning of the year.

Melissa Gill said...

I read Peony in Love, and didn't really care for it. The history and culture were fascinating, but it was such a downer. I'm always turned off by women who make themselves sick to death for love. I felt the same about Wuthering Heights.

I'm not sure I'll read this one, but I'm glad for the review because it confirms what I suspected.

Crazy Cat Lady said...

Tracy, thanks so much for your thoughtful comments on my book reviews/giveaways and for your posting them on your giveaway page!!! I am blessed to have found so many friends in the book blogging community!

You should try entering some of my international giveaways, yourself, too! I'd love to have you win something one day!


Crazy Cat Lady

RAJI said...

hi petty .nice review;the book seemed very interesting to me.I personally know few people who have only the "worst "in store everytime in their lives .probably the author too had such experiences to examplify in charecters.HEY,MEANWHILE COULD YOU TELL ME HOW THE STORY ENDED UP?

Arti said...

The cover actually looked quite joyous to me... Wish the same could have been said about the story.
But still, I think I will like this book for the reasons you mentioned..

naida said...

I have this on my wishlist. I know what you mean about the shocking scenes and details about the foot binding. Snow Flower and the Secret Fan had me in tears, but I did enjoy it.


Alyce said...

I really liked this book, and hope that there will be a sequel at some point in the future.

GMR said...

Enjoyed the review...and despite the sad/slighty disturbing undertones of the storyline (though they seem rather accurate historically as you pointed out) it seems it was a good match for you. ^_^ Happy reading and thanks for sharing!