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January 25, 2018 at 3:06 pm #4742
In 1937 Shanghai—the Paris of Asia—twenty-one-year-old Pearl Chin and her younger sister, May, are having the time of their lives. Both are beautiful, modern, and carefree—until the day their father tells them that he has gambled away their wealth. To repay his debts, he must sell the girls as wives to suitors who have traveled from Los Angeles to find Chinese brides. As Japanese bombs fall on their beloved city, Pearl and May set out on the journey of a lifetime, from the Chinese countryside to the shores of America. Though inseparable best friends, the sisters also harbor petty jealousies and rivalries. Along the way they make terrible sacrifices, face impossible choices, and confront a devastating, life-changing secret, but through it all the two heroines of this astounding new novel hold fast to who they are—Shanghai girls.January 29, 2018 at 10:42 am #4748
I think we read a LIsa See book years ago, and I remember liking it. Hope I can get to this one! Sounds good.January 29, 2018 at 11:40 am #4749
We did – it was Snow Flower and the Secret Fan. I liked that one quite a bit.January 30, 2018 at 5:32 pm #4764
That’s it! Oh yeah, I did like that one. Still have it on my shelves 🙂January 30, 2018 at 6:13 pm #4768
Book ordered! The Kindle version cost more than the actual book, so silly! Oh well, pretty soon I’ll have more space for my book habits 🙂February 8, 2018 at 12:52 pm #4828
Overall I liked it. I really enjoyed the description of Shang Hai as the girls lived it. Reading about the history of that time was also very interesting. The attack on their mom and on Pearl was heartbreaking and I could barely stomach through the pages. See brought that brutality to life and it was heart breaking. It reminded me of the stories of the horrors the Japanese inflicted in the Philippines that I used to hear from my family. They were truly tragic and brutal times. I tend to steer away from scenes like that because they can be misused and unnecessary to the story but this time I thought it was fitting for the times.
I wish we were able to see more of a connection with Pearl and Joy as well as Pearl and Sam. I felt like that was always skimmed over. I never got the sense that Pearl embraced Joy as her own. Or accepted Sam as a partner. For awhile it felt like a lot of working here, working there & maneuvering through life in Los Angeles. I wanted to connect more with the characters here and I just didn’t. It felt like Pearl was always afraid (understandable given her experience), or she was envious of May’s time with her daughter — but that wasn’t off set by her own love & connection to Joy. She was always planning & working for Joy’s future but we saw very little of the connection a mother has with a child.
I knew the truth about Joy had to come out eventually. Had I connected more with the characters, I feel like those last chapters would have had a much bigger impact.
I didn’t know that there was a sequel to the book so I was caught off guard by the ending. I’ve moved on to read that sequel to see what happens. I’ll share more of my thoughts when I’m done with it.February 22, 2018 at 10:00 am #4838
SPOILERS BELOW (for the sequel of the book: Dreams of Joy
So I went on to read the sequel to the book, Dreams of Joy. I think I liked this book better but I had the same feelings that I did for the first one. I really enjoyed the historical aspect of the story, getting insight into The Great Leap Forward and the horrors of those times, but the author definitely lacks when it comes to the emotional connection to her characters. I thought she did a better job of it in this book. Often times I felt much like Pearl – the mom, doing all she can to patiently and successfully get through to her daughter. I imagine the arrogance and naivety of youth is what most moms will go through but holy smokes I wanted to smack joy through most of the first half of the book. But I got it….when I was a young teenager, I went to the Philippines for the first time and I remember falling in love with the simplicity of it. Sure there were roaches coming out of the pipes in the shower and the pig pens were to the side of the dining hall….but the grand adventure and amazing people. It was good for a few weeks but I welcomed the sight of San Francisco on our way home.
With that in mind, I could almost buy into Joy’s story. I had a harder time placing myself in the political upheaval of her world. Her home country turned on her family so turning to the glamour of a new world is enticing. I saw that. Her time in Shanghai though was all glamour –
limo rides to dinner parties and fancy dresses from her father. How nice for her! But her marriage and the life she chose to live – how could a girl who went to college in Chicago want that life? That morning after her wedding night, I could almost feel the blow to her ego. What a mess she got herself in!
I thought her “rescue” was a little too easy. So her parents walk into the village and walk out without any resistance? Okay.
Overall, a good read. I didn’t like the narrator in the audio book. She gave Joy such a high pitched, squeaky voice that totally shaped her in my mind. I wonder if Joy would have been less petulant had I read the book instead of listened to the audio.February 26, 2018 at 11:01 am #4842
I’m about 1/2 way through, and I am liking it pretty well so far. Hope to finish up this week…March 2, 2018 at 8:40 am #4846
OMG, just spent 20 minutes typing a post and then accidentally messed it up! 🙁 Going to try to re-create it…
Done! Glad I read the book, and it flowed pretty quick for me. I always wanted to see what was going to happen next. Mary, like you, I had almost the same exact feelings about the book. I won’t go into too much redundant detail. Like you, I enjoyed the cultural aspects and the historical-cultural side of the book. I like how LS flavors her book with her personal background. I agree though, that at times I felt like the book was too removed personally, and that made it tough to connect with the characters sometimes. I wanted to dig deeper and see more of some of the relationships, especially Pearl and May, and Pearl and Joy. I was disconnected from Pearl many times, because I just felt like her connections to others weren’t written deep enough.
I don’t think I’ll read the sequel. Too many books, and too little time!
Thanks for sharing your story Mary. I think it’s cool when a book can connect to the reader on a personal level.
Same here. There are several things in this book that made me think of my mom’s family a LOT. They were from a different ethnic group, Hispanics. But, they started out in San Francisco in the 30s and 40s, and then moved to Los Angeles in the 40s and 50s. That’s where my mom was born and grew up (which is why I was born there). My mom’s sister is disabled, and lived at home with the family, like Vern. Many of my Mom’s uncles and cousins would go and be movie extras all the time. They also would get cast in stereotypical roles like the Mexican “bandito” or the Mexican bad guys in old Westerns. I think it is kind of cool on the one hand, but then not so much on the other. My Mom went to Catholic school in what was a Hispanic area, but is now a Korean area. She was rebellious young, and was even in a gang! I remember as a young girl in the early 80s, when I’d be at my grandparents house, they always had something to say about some ethnic group or another. Even other Hispanic ethnic groups. Especially my grandmother. She was a trip! It must have been both such an exciting time, but such an unusual time back then for all these different ethnic groups to have “their” parts of the city, and all sorts of different levels of assimilation, relationships with others, etc.
I will have to ask my Mom about Chinatown and China City and all that, and what she remembers of it from back then. I’ll bet she has some good stories.
And shout out to Lisa See for the Clark Gable mention. Woo hoo! There was a scene where she describes May and Joy being extras in a Clark movie. He did do several movies with Asian themes, so it totally fits.
I have seen The Good Earth before, but it’s been a while. I will have to watch it again, paying more attention to the sets that were eventually used in China City. Hollywood was/is so crazy. Can you imagine those old sets being used to simulate China for tourists. Ugh! Only in L.A. and Hollywood! It is sometimes hard for me to watch some of those old movies from a modern perspective. Because they would cast non-Asian actors in the leads, Luise Rainer played the lead, and then alter their faces, hair, etc. to make them look Asian. So weird to watch now. The Good Earth from 1937 is also notable since Luise R. is the only actress to win back-to-back Oscars, one from 1936, the other from The Good Earth.April 15, 2018 at 5:26 pm #4915Anonymous
Honestly, I finished this one awhile ago (maybe a month or so?) and kept forgetting to stop by here with a review. I felt pretty much the same as both of you. I enjoyed the cultural/historical stuff – especially before the war in Shanghai and even when they first got to California (we so often only hear about the Ellis Island side of immigration). The big problem was that I never connected with either of the girls or their family (other than thinking Joy was going to end up being a spoiled brat at some point). So when the story went from being all encompassing – life, culture, history, and characters – to being mostly character focused (on Pearl) , I found myself loosing interest. I don’t think the author dug deep enough into what made the characters who they were. If we hadn’t been told and told again and again their relationships to each other, I’m not sure I could have figured it out on my own. So overall, it wasn’t that I didn’t like the book, it’s that I was disappointed because I thought it could have been more than it was.
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