Last month, Lisa See was a guest of Hal Wake at Incite, at the VPL. Before the event, I read Shanghai Girls. It had been sitting on my shelf since a writer friend recommended it a couple of years ago.
The story of the two sisters is a gripping tale of family, war, emigration, identity and the search for belonging.
From their privileged life of modernity, wealth and modeling as "beautiful girls," for hand painted ads for products from batteries to bicycles, Pearl and May are cast suddenly into poverty and war. In spite of her bound feet, their mother helps them escape from Shanghai.
Unfortunately, their plan to escape the marriages their father has arranged to save himself from the gang that demands he make good for his vast gambling debts does not work out. Instead of running away to Hong Kong, they escape to America to join their husbands in Los Angeles. Due to the strict screening of immigration, they are delayed on an island with other immigrants for many months, and enter the United States with a shared secret they'll have to protect for years to come.
In LA, as in China, nothing is as it seems. All is shift and change, and life becomes a long and often weary process of adaptation. When the moment of greatest crisis arises, it seems as if Pearl and May have hidden the truth of their history in vain.