Friday, July 6, 2012

Shanghai Girls by Lisa See

Months ago, my sister read Shanghai Girls by Lisa See for her book club.  She said I just had to read it.  Fast forward several months and I still hadn't gotten to it when my darling friend Amy mentioned that she had read it.  I asked her if she had loved it because I had heard good things about it.  She said it was okay and suggested that I read it so we could discuss.  Then, like any dear book-loving friend, she loaned me her copy. 

So what did I think?  Well, I'm with Amy on this one- it was okay.  I am a big fan of Amy Tan's writing and I had hopes that Shanghai Girls would be similar and it did begin that way.  I loved Pearl's description of her home life and the family dynamics there.  I also loved her detailed description of Shanghai, though I did choke a bit when she matter-of-factly mentions "step[ping] around a dead baby left on the sidewalk."  I also enjoyed the historical descriptions that Ms. See brings.  The reader feels like she is discovering a part of the world she didn't realize existed.  So many things that I have read about China have focused on the countryside.  Shanghai Girls is partly set in the bustling metropolis of Shanghai.  It is a city filled with wealth and poverty.  I found the markets particularly interesting:  "As tempting as the watermelon sellers are, we ignore them.  Too many of them try to make their melons sound heavier by injecting them with water from the river or one of the creeks.  Even a single bite could result in dysentery, typhoid or cholera."  Can you imagine?

I very much enjoyed the first half of the book.  Beyond that, I couldn't help but feel that it rambled a bit.  The plot took unexpected turns that I waited to grasp.  The characters seemed to lose some of their color.  I did appreciate the relationship between the two sisters.  No matter what happened, they were always sisters; they were always supporting one another.  I can't say that I have any interest in reading the sequel, but please tell me if I'm wrong.  Have you read Dreams of Joy ?  Is it worth the read?  I would love to hear what you think!

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