Posted by: Gary Niebuhr
The fall Greendale Reads title we selected was Shanghai Girls by Lisa See. Years ago every book club seemed to be reading See’s earlier novel, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan (2005). Shanghai Girls, published in 2009, was popular but did not garner the attention that Snow Flower did. I am not sure why, as the novel proved to be an excellent book discussion title for our community.
The Shanghai Girls are Pearl and May Chin, two daughters of a successful businessman living the high life in Shanghai in the 1930s. Then a series of incidents impact the girls’ lives: their father’s debts bankrupt the family, marriages to Chinese-Americans are arranged, and the Japanese invade the area.
Readers should be aware that See is not shy about showing the brutal impact life will have on these two “beautiful girls.” While best friends, they each have strengths and weaknesses which are clearly exacerbated by the struggles their plight forces on them. If this is a character study of Pearl and May, the central question becomes what kind of character they will have in order to survive.
Beautifully written, rich in historical detail and sprawling in its coverage of the two girls, this novel kept our group talking past the deadline to end. I would highly recommend it for any book discussion group.