Sunday, May 16, 2010

Journey to America

Lisa See has a great-grandfather who was Chinese and came to California in 1871. And although she is Caucasian on her maternal side, she feels that she is “Chinese in my heart”. Her latest novel “Shanghai Girls” opens in 1937. Pearl and May Chin live in Shanghai and spend their days primping and dressing for their nights as “Beautiful Girls”. Their job is to pose for magazines and advertisements. They are oblivious to the poverty surrounding Shanghai. But their privileged life comes to an abrupt end as the girls learn that their father has sold them as brides to settle his gambling debts. The buyer is “Old Man Louie”. Mr. Louie is a Chinese man who has immigrated to America and wants Chinese brides for his two sons.

As the girls plot to escape their fate, the Japanese invade Shanghai. The girls and their mother flee Shanghai. What they encounter as they flee will change their lives forever. They eventually find themselves on Angel Island (the Ellis Island of the West) for months, waiting for clearance by the immigration authorities. When they finally join their husbands in Los Angeles, they are shocked by what they find. Their father in-law is involved with the building of China Town in Los Angeles, but his family lives in a small, crowded apartment. They work in the souvenier shops and the restaurants that will become China Town. When World War II begins they witness Chinese Americans struggling to prove their allegiance to the US. Lisa See describes the changes that overtake China and the relatives left behind as Mao’s communist regime takes over. “Shanghai Girls” is largely an historical fiction novel. See poignantly relates the difficult experience of being a Chinese immigrant to the United States just prior to and after World War II. Pearl and May Chin are strong characters who fight for independence and freedom in a world dominated by men.

“Shanghai Girls” is a story that incorporates the fall of Shanghai and the Chinese immigration to Los Angeles in the 1930s, with a very interesting, well written story about the survival of two strong willed, irrepressible sisters.

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