For one of my classes I needed to choose from a list of books that emulated “Communicating Across Cultures.” Knowing very little of East Asian cultures, I chose Shanghai Girls by Lisa See. To get to the main point: I would highly recommend this book to anyone looking for a good read and a plethora of knowledge and philosophical questioning.
The book is about two sisters, Pearl and May Chin, who are sold into marriage to two sons of a Chinese man living in Los Angeles. They must make a perilous journey to escape Shanghai after the Japanese invade and go to America, even after they tried to avoid leaving in the first place. Once in America, there are many cultural issues that come up, particularly around raising Pearl’s daughter, Joy, and how Americans view the Chinese immigrants differently throughout time (the book is set from 1937-1957).
The most interesting part of the novel for me was the relationship between the two sisters. The novel is narrated from Pearl’s point of view, and one can’t help but agree with her reasoning most of the time. At the end, there are great revelations between the sisters about how they truly feel about their lives, their families, and each other. Yet through it all, the sisters stick together to battle life.
I need to write a book report, as well, and one theme I found was the constant struggle the women face to keep their Chinese roots while embracing American culture. Is it possible for them to have roots and wings? This seems to be a central theme in the book, and a question that is never truly answered. By extension, is it possible for anyone to have both roots in one culture but be able to embrace and succeed in another, completely different, culture?
Bottom line: read this book. It’s a truly great story and actually has a good deal of depth.