Wednesday, October 27, 2010

a little happiness

I clearly like Lisa See's writings since I have gone through three of her books lately. Shanghai Girls is a little different from the other two; it is more modern and a lot of the action takes place in America. However, the essence of the story, the relationship between two sisters and the struggle to connect with their past traditions are familiar.

Pearl and May are sisters in Shanghai during the 1930s. Their family has money so they overlook much of the unpleasant aspects of the world around them (like dead babies in the street and malnourished men pulling their rickshaws) and instead focus on fashion and romance.

Their father has arranged marriages to men who live in America for the girls, but the refuse to go. The Japanese attack China and the girls and their mother do their best to make a run for it. They see and experience firsthand the horrific aspects of war, yet somehow Pearl and May survive and make their way to America, where they are put in Angel Island and kept for months in prison like conditions before they are able to join their husbands in an America that makes it very clear they are not wanted.

"You're like a bird that's been freed from a cage,' May says, 'but doesn't remember how to fly. You're my sister, but I don't know where you've gone in your mind. You're so apart from me now."

See is so great at capturing the complexities of relationships and the heartache that can come from unspoken words and unasked questions. Pearl and May share a deep secret that turns out to have disastrous effects on their family and leaves the end of the book very open.

"As I speak, I'm reminded of the old saying that disasters go in through the mouth, disasters come out of the mouth, meaning that words can be like bombs themselves."

My one complaint about this book is the ending. I am not sure if See is planning on doing a sequel to the book (I'm guessing not) but I just felt that we get all of this build-up and then see the result of the sister's actions but not a resolution. Not as good as Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, but still an alright read.

Also, poll is closed but since the only one who voted was my fiancee - yup, boyfriend proposed this weekend :) - I am going to just read what I want. Also I might have put the Magus in his car when he left so it'll be hard for me to read it. I'm thinking Madame Bovary since I don't think I have read a lot of French fiction.

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