What Book Mama’s reading now — “Shanghai Girls” by Lisa See

Wine that goes best with this book — Saki

(yes, I know that’s Japanese not Chinese)

My grandfather was born in Northern Minnesota in 1905 to immigrant parents from Finland.  He grew up speaking both English and Finnish, but he only taught English to my mother and her sister.  In fact, he was adamant that he didn’t want them to learn anything else.

Not passing down his native tongue has always been something of a disappointment to me two generations later.

Okay, I understand that speaking Finnish isn’t exactly vital in 2010 — probably even if you live in Finland — but I always thought it would be nice to be bilingual.  Like my friend who speaks only Italian to his daughters.  Or another friend who breaks out in fluent Spanish when her mother calls.

But after reading Shanghai Girls by Lisa See, (15 and up) I finally really understand why my grandfather wanted his children to be Americanized.  It may have had more to do with fear than patriotism.  Not just wanting his kids to be American, but wanting them to be accepted as American.

Shanghai Girls tells the story of two spoiled sisters living in Shanghai before WWII.  When their father loses all the family money, the girls are sold into arranged marriages to American boys they have never met.  One calamity after another befalls the sisters until they finally end up living in Los Angeles’ Chinatown.  More than anything it’s a story about the enduring love of two very different sisters.

This book made me see not only my adoptive city of LA with different eyes, but I also look at some of the choices my immigrant ancestors made in a whole new light.

Excellent book club fodder.  Also a good choice for an older teen.  Probably not appropriate reading material for a teen under 15 primarily because of the graphic rape scene.


1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Courtney
    Aug 18, 2010 @ 05:18:03

    loved this book! The sister characters were wonderful! Dont know if I would call them ‘spoiled’? (has been awhile since I read this), but I think they were upper middle class in China (and in for a rude awakening upon arrival in the U.S.!). Thanks for posting this one. Great read.


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