By Rebecca T. Dickinson
“We all look around until we come to my mother, who has not said a word since the men entered our home. I see hardness in her I’ve never seen before. Maybe we’re all like that with our mothers. They seem ordinary until one day they’re extraordinary.” (p. 58)
courtesy of http://lisasee.com.
Shanghai Girls reminds me of great barbecue. You want one more piece. The meat is great, and you wonder what the cook put in the sauce. The book reads great, but if you’re not ready for a dark non-stop journey, it will not settle well in your system.
I’ve read Peony in Love and Snow Flower and the Secret Fan. Lisa See remains one of my favorite authors. Shanghai Girls takes a new, twisted road into the world of arranged marriage, a gang, bombs, Japanese invasion and war crimes, racism, illegal immigration, and the fear of communism. At the heart of the book rests the relationship between two sisters, Pearl and May.
For the purpose today’s post, I chose to focus on the family theme. See says she likes to write about the relationships between mothers and daughters and sisters. While I do not have a sister, I understand the family correlation. See says sisters must rely on each other, but they also know where to stick the knife.
“I’ve loved my sister from the moment she was born, but for too long I’ve been like a moon spinning around her entrancing planet. Now I whirl away as the anger of a lifetime boils out of me.” (p. 296)
The above quote extends to all family rivalries and some lifelong friendships. The book spoke to me on a personal and storytelling level. When I read books, I study what the author does, and See composes beautiful descriptions. She also puts as much feeling into the relationship between May and Pearl as possible. The story is a love story: caring, laughter, jealously, heroism, and forgiveness.
Pearl envies May’s beauty and career. May envies the fact Pearl loves her husband and is respected for her brain. Jealousies heat up in their journey, but ultimately, they try to save each other. They share a secret no one can know.
I could not put the book down.
There are two weaknesses in the book. The first, and I’ve read this in other reviews also, is the book ends too fast. See races to the end. The action is still strong, but that brings me to the next point.
courtesy of http://amazon.com.
When you read a book full of action whether it is suspense, horror, emotional impact, or war; I believe the reader deserves a short break from Action Point A to Action Point B. It might be a good place to build a character or show a little back story. I am not saying drag the story out, but just like a good movie, give the reader a chance to breathe. Shanghai Girls lacked recovery time.
As I said, the book reached me on a personal level. I have a close extended family. People know each other’s business before anyone understands what is happening. In the process, words are thrown out like tacs in the road.
In reaction to the book and recent events, I wrote this sappy poem. Family is a love story; more like a love story that evolves from an arranged marriage. In the end, life is happier than in Shanghai Girls.
I wanted to say, “thank you” for the recipe book you gave to me
in Christmas 2010 to let you know I made the buttermilk chocolate brownies.
It came from a recipe within the book that never collects dust,
but pride or sorrow stepped in to say words as heartless
as a priest who kicks a homeless man into the snow.
I made you a layered nacho dip without onions you despise,
because I wanted to say, “I love you” in my creative way.
But, you were in no mood to consider love,
or the things others had to say.
Do not worry for I never forget who stood by
when my first marriage broke apart.
I know who gave my son his special blanket;
gave me a piece of the Berlin Wall;
and who took care of me in Puerto Rico.
But, you were in no mood to hear gratitude.
You chose to wipe out good feelings by
kicking us in the gut with words sharp, made to sting.
I wanted to say, “I love you,” yet “You’re a mean mom,”
and “shut up” were the only words you could say to me.