Review: Shanghai Girls by Lisa See

If you have read Lisa See’s Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, you’ve read a book enormously similar to her more recent Shanghai Girls. In Shanghai Girls, the girls are natural sisters instead of close friends; the horrifying foot-binding is swapped for a horrifying gang rape; and the two girls talk out their gross misunderstanding amidst much carnage at the novel’s close. From this, you’d probably think I didn’t like this book and you’d be half right. It’s an absorbing read, but an ugly one. I recommended Perfume in spite of its ugliness, but this is a different sort of ugliness. It’s an accumulation of unpleasant events rather than a thorough investigation of an unpleasant character. Pearl and May (the two sisters) hit a run of serious bad luck and there is one event in their chain of bad luck that pushes it over the edge into ‘too much’ because it feels out of character for the participants. Picture Oliver Twist if it had ended when Bill Sykes caned Nancy: an oppressive downer. read more