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Publisher's Summary

For readers of the phenomenal best sellers Snow Flower and the Secret Fan and Peony in Love, a stunning new novel from Lisa See about two sisters who leave Shanghai to find new lives in 1930s Los Angeles.

May and Pearl, two sisters living in Shanghai in the mid-1930s, are beautiful, sophisticated, and well-educated, but their family is on the verge of bankruptcy. Hoping to improve their social standing, May and Pearl's parents arrange for their daughters to marry "Gold Mountain men" who have come from Los Angeles to find brides.

But when the sisters leave China and arrive at Angel's Island (the Ellis Island of the West, where they are detained, interrogated, and humiliated for months) they feel the harsh reality of leaving home. And when May discovers she's pregnant, the situation becomes even more desperate. The sisters make a pact that no one can ever know.

A novel about two sisters, two cultures, and the struggle to find a new life in America while bound to the old, Shanghai Girls is a fresh, fascinating adventure from beloved and best-selling author Lisa See.

©2009 Random House (P)2009 Random House

Critic Reviews

"A buoyant and lustrous paean to the bonds of sisterhood." ( Booklist)

What members say

Average Customer Ratings


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  • Overall

Touching, sad, and enjoyable

This is my first Lisa See book. Now normally I tend to stay away from sad books about the trials and tribulations of life, but this one was so rich in detail that I was wrapped up in the story before I realized it was sad -- by then it was too late to put the book down.
I loved her characters who grow as the story progresses. The story is beautiful, touching, and a complex portrait of different kinds of love -- between sisters, between parents and their children, between husband and wives, and the complex feelings they have of their native and adopted countries.
The prominent figures are two girls who grew up in Shanghai just before World War II, and how they came to be in America after their world fell apart. It is a story of how they suffered many hardships, as told from the viewpoint of the elder sister. As the story progresses, the contrast between the sisters grow. They have conflicts, but resolve them because they are sisters who love each other.
For those who are constantly burdened with family responsibilities, this story could almost be a fable, a lesson in how ones viewpoint or attitude could change and color how one perceives and reacts to life's little blessings.
I give this book a high rating because I learnt something about relationships, and it was enjoyable even though it was primarily a tale of hardships. The story was never tedious, and, in the end, I wish the story went further than it did.

22 of 22 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Janice
  • Sugar Land, TX, United States
  • 08-23-11

Compelling historical fiction.

My introduction to this author was Snowflower and the Secret Fan, which I loved, and I think I enjoyed this one even better. The setting, 1937-1957, is an historical context that I am more familiar with, which may have made the main characters more relatable. Viewing the atrocities of the war years and the transition to the 1950's through the eyes of the Chinese immigrants offered a new perspective to the immigration experience and the communist witch hunts which has typically been told as a Russian Cold War. The ending obviously carries the story to a sequel, which I have already downloaded to continue the journey. I love Janet Song's reading - she brings the characters to life for me.

10 of 10 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Great Listen!

I loved this book. I've read See's "Snow Flower" and "Peony in Love" and this is by far my favorite. It does appear that it is being set up for a sequel, so don't expect the story to have a real ending. There is a lot in the story that is hard to take. Because the characters go through a lot in the story, we as readers do to.

The story is mainly about the relationship between two sisters, with the back drop of war in China and then China Town in Los Angeles in the late 30's, 40's, and 50's. Lisa See often deals with the theme of how perception shapes your world and actions, and "Shanghai" is no exception.

I loved the story and the lessons presented. Don't miss this one!

6 of 6 people found this review helpful

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  • Joshua
  • ASBURY, NJ, United States
  • 08-19-12

A Must Read!!!

For all the lovers of Amy Tan, Lisa See is another great author not to be missed. She is able to paint a picture so clear that I am able to see the world of the Shanghai Girls as if it were my life. Do not believe any one who knocks Janet Song's performance. She has a wonderfully calming voice layered with the knowledge of what it means to be asian american. Her voice captures the struggle of the characters but never gives into it; just as the characters don't let the events of the story defeat them. This book is not to be missed and I hope you take the leap and listen to it like I did.

5 of 5 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Ella
  • toronto,, Ontario, Canada
  • 06-26-11

Relationships within Chinese Culture

Shanghai Girls is the story of two sisters Pearl and May starting out in 1930’s Shanghai China. It takes you on a journey of war, family, betrayal, obligation and relationships. The girls’ father, loses his daughters in a gambling debt and sells them into arranged marriages with American husbands. Plagued by war, separation, rape, torture and the birth of a child, the author Lisa See, explores the strengths and weaknesses of these two sisters as she pushes them to their limits. Their struggle with secrets, racism and fitting into a new world, all play important roles to create the backdrop and develop the personalities of the two protagonists. The sisters’ relationship is complex and entwined in loyalty, jealousy and different perceptions. Lisa See paints a very hard life for these two women who endure tragedy after tragedy. She manages to capture how their circumstance bonds Pearl and May and pulls them apart at the same time.
Rich in culture, this book delves into everything from bound feet and rickshaws to Chinese cooking and fashion. The many Chinese idioms throughout adds authenticity. I am glad I read this book with the intentions of reading the squeal, Dreams of Joy. The book ends abruptly. The ending leaves you hanging. Had I read this book a few years ago with no where to find answers, the ending would have disappointed me. Fortunately, I have just started Dreams of Joy.
The reader does a very good job narrating the book. I was glad it was the same reader for the sequel as it give continuity to the story.

11 of 12 people found this review helpful

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  • Marie
  • Arlington, TN, United States
  • 08-01-13

Enchanting, Engrossing, Educational

Would you listen to Shanghai Girls again? Why?

Yes, I would. The book was rich in details about Chinese culture and history from both countries, China and USA. The characters were believable, their flaws and their good points were creatively painted by the author. The book will let you travel in a past gone time, and you will have a hard time putting the "book" down.

What was one of the most memorable moments of Shanghai Girls?

Mei and Pearl towards the end of the book, finally spill all their emotions, their fears, their thoughts and it was very touching.

Have you listened to any of Janet Song’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

No, this was my first one. She did a great job!

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?


Any additional comments?

This book is worth a credit. It is part of the history of the United States and I learned a lot. Give this one a try.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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  • Story
  • Thornhill,, Ontario, Canada
  • 03-25-13

A Beautiful Story, masterful narrator

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

Yes, in a heartbeat. I found every minute of this book wonderful. At times heartbreaking but always engaging. I followed this family through sad and happy times and cherished the relationship between the two sisters. This book is a wonderful piece that will stay with me for years. It also gave me a wonderful view into Chinese culture that I found fascinating and informative. I had never really understood the Communist scare in the U.S. the way I now do.

What other book might you compare Shanghai Girls to and why?

Joy Luck Club... a bit. The thing Shanghai Girls had in common with Joy Luck Club was the theme of Chinese culture and the generational thing which is so much a part of that culture.

Have you listened to any of Janet Song’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

No I have not, but I would seek out another book written by her.

Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

I cried and laughed throughout the whole book. I found I became very emotional at various points in the book which I would prefer not to reveal so as not to ruin it for someone deciding whether or not to read Shanghai Girls. I am so glad I downloaded this book.

Any additional comments?

I heartily recommend Shanghai Girls!!

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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  • Debbie
  • Toney, Alabama
  • 08-13-14

Amazing Story of Resilient, Family-Oriented People

Historical fiction at it's best . . . this novel of two sisters, their family, and the old China of the early 1900's is beautifully written and narrated. This is a China and Shanghai that I really knew nothing about, since I was born in 1955. The American Chinese that I have been privileged to know have been some of the most honest and hard working people I would ever want to meet. This story which tells the hardships facing the early immigrants of the Chinese to America, makes me understand how these wonderful people came to be who they are. I did know that missionaries served in China prior to the communist regime, though I knew little else. The customs, the tight family framework, the sacrifices that generations of Chinese people endured for their offspring impacted me as I listened, as well as the exploitation of those virtues by fellow Chinese citizens. It is clear that evil preys on the most innocent in our society. As the two sisters, Pearl and May eventually escape from China to the United States, and enter through Angel's Island (also unknown to me) in California, I am amazed to learn at the interrogation they endure upon entry to America. I had never heard of "paper sons". I can't wait to listen to the next book by Lisa See, "Dreams of Joy". I am totally intrigued by the determination, love, and sacrifice of these people who are frugal, humble, and put the love of their family above all else. Their appreciation of America and the freedoms that many of us take for granted is refreshing and is a lesson for us all.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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  • Melissa
  • Atlanta, GA, United States
  • 06-08-12

Dive in to Chinese-American history & culture

I read and loved Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by the same author. I remember thinking at the time that Ms. See did a remarkable job of vividly describing the surroundings of her characters, while also making them seem like real and sympathetic people -- people I could almost recognize, despite the time and place of the story. I feel even more strongly about this book. Pearl and May start out as privileged young Chinese women in Shanghai in 1937 and end up 2 decades later in post-World War II California, both - but particularly Pearl - greatly changed. No spoilers here, but I was riveted by the perspective of this story, from China during the Japanese invasion to the Chinatown of Los Angeles before the second world war to Chinese-American life during and after the Communist takeover of mainland China. But the book is not simply a history of this period from the characters' viewpoints. It is also a richly developed character study, with very real dialogue, passions, conflicts and misunderstandings. Janet Song is an excellent reader, with her slight accent and excellent pronunciation of Chinese words. Her steadily prevailing tempo and control is very suggestive of Pearl herself.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • ktbyrd
  • Salt Lake City, Utah USA
  • 09-02-09

Lisa See gets it right

I listen to this book while walking--I always make my 3 mile goal. The narrator is superb, the story telling exquisite, the characters have become people I know better than my actual neighbors. What an achievement to have written this narrative.

7 of 8 people found this review helpful