Shanghai Girls was very uneven, not terribly well-written, but just interesting enough that when it ended on a cliffhanger, I thought “Good, I want to read the sequel”.
“We hug, but there are no tears. For every awful thing that’s been said and done, she is my sister. Parents die, daughters grow up and marry out, but sisters are for life. She is the only person left in the world who shares my memories of our childhood, our parents, our Shanghai, our struggles, our sorrows, and, yes, even our moments of happiness and triumph. My sister is the one person who truly knows me, as I know her.”
Shanghai Girls, which opens in 1930s Shanghai, stars two sisters who have been raised rather luxuriously, and make some extra pocket money posing for calendars as “beautiful girls”. Their life is shattered when their father reveals that he has sold them to two Chinese-Americans as wives to pay off his gambling debts. Shortly after, Japan attacks China, causing the girls to flee with their mother. They suffer in the Chinese countryside, lose their mother under horrible circumstances, then finally make it to America. Here they face numerous more challenges, from immigration officials to their new family to fires and other disasters.
The background is fascinating: the second Sino-Japenese War, the trials faced by Chinese attempting to immigrate to America in the 1930s, the roles that the two girls are forced into. What I didn’t like, which is unfortunate because I think this was the author’s focus, was the relationship between narrator Pearl and her younger sister May. May is a selfish little shit and Pearl constantly puts up with it because they’re family and they’re all each other has. And I totally get that, and the fact that this was likely the reality for millions of young Chinese women. But that doesn’t change the fact that May was just incredibly unlikable, and one of the two main characters.
Still, I’m sure I’ll read the sequel and find out what happens to the women next. Maybe May will get hit by a bus.