From the Publisher
In 1937 Shanghai-the Paris of Asia-twenty-one-year-old Pearl Chin
and her younger sister, May, are having the time of their lives.
Both are beautiful, modern, and carefree-until the day their father
tells them that he has gambled away their wealth. To repay his
debts, he must sell the girls as wives to suitors who have traveled
from Los Angeles to find Chinese brides. As Japanese bombs fall on
their beloved city, Pearl and May set out on the journey of a
lifetime, from the Chinese countryside to the shores of America.
Though inseparable best friends, the sisters also harbor petty
jealousies and rivalries. Along the way they make terrible
sacrifices, face impossible choices, and confront a devastating,
life-changing secret, but through it all the two heroines of this
astounding new novel hold fast to who they are-Shanghai girls.
From the Jacket
"See is a gifted writer, and in Shanghai Girls she
again explores the bonds of sisterhood while powerfully evoking the
often nightmarish American immigrant experience."-USA
"A buoyant and lustrous paean to the bonds of
"A rich work…as compulsively readable as it is an enlightening
"The glamour of prewar Shanghai is recalled in Lisa See's
deftly plotted Shanghai
"An engrossing tale of two sisters."-Time.com
"Shanghai Girls is one of those books
I could not wait to continue reading, because her characters'
stories are so compellingly told."-St. Louis Dispatch
"As in Snow Flower and the Secret Fan and
Peony in Love, she has in her latest novel created
ordinary women who, through willfulness and resiliency, accomplish
extraordinary things…See, whose writing is as graceful as these
''beautiful girls,'' pulls off another exceptional
From the Hardcover edition.
About the Author
Lisa See is the New York Times bestselling author of Peony
in Love, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, Flower
Net (an Edgar Award nominee), The
Interior, and Dragon Bones, as well as
the critically acclaimed memoir On Gold Mountain. The Organization
of Chinese American Women named her the 2001 National Woman of the
Year. She lives in Los Angeles.
From the Hardcover edition.
1. Pearl's narration is unique because of its level, calm tone
throughout- even when the events she describes are horrific.
One is reminded of Wordsworth's reference to "emotion
recollected in tranquility." It is almost as if Pearl is
writing in a diary. What was Lisa See trying to accomplish in
setting up this counterpoint between her tone and
2. Pearl is a Dragon and May is a Sheep. Do you think the two
sisters, in their actions in the novel, are true to their
3. Which sister is smarter? Which is more beautiful?
4. Each sister believes that her parents loved the other sister
more. Who is right about this? Why?
5. Pearl says that parents die, husbands and children can leave,
but sisters are for life. Does that end up being true for
Pearl? If you have a sister, to what extent does the
relationship between Pearl and May speak to your own
experience? What's the difference between a relationship that's
"just like sisters" and a relationship between real sisters?
Is there anything your sister could do that would cause an
6. Z.G. talks about ai kuo, the love for your country, and
ai jen, the emotion you feel for the person you love.
How do these ideas play out in the novel?
7. Shanghai Girls makes a powerful
statement about the mistreatment of Chinese immigrants in the
United States. Were you surprised about any of the details in
the novel related to this theme?
8. How would you describe the relationship between Pearl and
May? How does the fact that both are, in a sense, Joy's mother
affect their relationship? Who loves Joy more and how does she
9. Pearl doesn't come to mother-love easily or naturally. At what
point does she begin to claim Joy as her own? How, where, and
why does she continue to struggle with the challenges of being
a mother? Do you think this is an accurate portrayal of
10. There are times when it seems like outside forces conspire
against Pearl-leaving China, working in the restaurant, not
finding a job after the war, and taking care of Vern. How much
of what happens to Pearl is a product of her own
11. Pearl's attitude toward men and the world in general is
influenced by what happened to her in the shack outside
Shanghai. To what extent does she find her way to healing by
the end of the novel? Did your attitude toward Old Man Louie
change? How do you feel about Sam and his relationship with
Pearl and Joy? Did your impression of him change as the novel
12. The novel begins with Pearl saying, "I am not a person of
importance" (p. 3). After Yen-yen dies, Pearl comments: "Her
funeral is small. After all, she was not a person of
importance, rather just a wife and mother" (p. 246). How do
you react to comments like these?
13. Speaking of Yen-yen, Pearl notes: "When we're packing,
Yen-yen says she's tired. She sits down on the couch in the
main room and dies" (p. 246). Why does Pearl describe
Yen-yen's death in such an abrupt way?
14. After Joy points out the differences in the way Z.G. painted
her mother and aunt in the Communist propaganda posters, May
says, "Everything always returns to the beginning" (p. 267).
Pearl has her idea of what May meant, but what do you think
May really meant? And what is Pearl's understanding of this
saying at the end of the novel?
15. Near the end of Shanghai Girls, May argues
that Pearl and Sam have withdrawn into a world of fear and
isolation, not taking advantage of the opportunities open to
them. Do you agree with May that much of Pearl's sadness and
isolation is self-imposed? Why or why not?
16. How do clothes define Pearl and May in different parts of the
story? How do the sisters use clothes to manipulate
17. How does food serve as a gateway to memory in the novel?
How does it illustrate culture and tradition both in the novel
and in your own family?
18. What influence-if any-do Mama's beliefs have on Pearl? How
do they evolve over time?
19. Pearl encounters a lot of racism, but she also holds many
racist views herself. Is she a product of her time? Do her
attitudes change during the course of the story?
20. What role does place-Shanghai, Angel Island, China City,
and Chinatown-serve in the novel? What do you think Lisa See
was trying to say about "home"?
About the Book
From the author of the bestsellers "Snow Flower and the Secret Fan" and "Peony in Love" comes a stunning novel about two sisters who leave Shanghai to find new lives in 1930s Los Angeles.