Friday, March 12, 2010

Shanghai Girls by Lisa See

Shanghai Girls follows the lives of two sisters, Pearl and May, from glamorous 1930s Shanghai to post-WWII United States. There are a lot of downs and very few ups in this book. The sisters encounter one tragedy after another clear to the end which didn’t encourage me to keep turning pages. On the contrary, I had to force myself to sit down to read and finish the story. Honestly, I kept thinking I could be reading Amy Tan right now instead. Although historically accurate, the novel wasn’t very powerful, just depressing. I never felt attached to or invested in any of the characters. The sisters, especially May, seemed incredibly spoiled and I never really liked her and Pearl was self-defeating for the entire novel. In many ways the characters were static and boring.

As for the prose and narrative structure, they were annoying. See writes in first person with Pearl’s voice. At first, Pearl seemed like a normal narrator. Then the prose took on a dear-diary feel that I didn’t like. And a few times Pearl addresses the reader, saying things like, you might think that…, which felt like narrator/author intrusion and didn’t work well. This shifting in narrator style ruined the effectiveness of the first person voice for me. Often, Pearl knew too much and was obviously See telling us what to think about circumstances or other characters (author intrusion again). At other times, Pearl was completely blind which didn’t coincide with her supposedly being the smart sister. The novel is written in present tense with no flashbacks which could have broken up the monotonous flow of bad events. The writing is not terrible but is just not effective or enticing.
Publisher: Random House, 2009     Source: IC Public Library
Rating: 2 Stars                                   Pages: 309

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