Lisa See brings out my finest emotions. The array of words is sown deep in my mind without the fear of being uprooted. I have a younger sister; never liked when she was born. I was extremely envious of her robbing all the parental attention. Over the years through our subtle rivalries and treacherous fights we grew closer and protective of each other. Although she is four years younger than me, I feel maternal towards her, trying every possible way to shelter her happiness and smile. I do not believe in love but I know for sure that I would do anything for her in a heartbeat.
Pearl Long resembles my sentiments or for that matter myself .Born in the Year of the Dragon, she is strong, indomitable and vulnerable yet to find her true self. Oblivious of her parent’s love, she longs for the attention that presumably is showered on her younger sibling May.
May Long born in the Year of the Sheep, is coquettish, loquacious and a stark opposite of Pearl. Astonishingly it is May who assumes Pearl to be her parent’s favorite. Envious of Pearl’s college education she yearns for everything that Pearl desires.
Irrespective of several reviews, to me ‘Shanghai Girls’ is Pearl’s passage through an intricate web of chance, fortune and destiny.
Pearl’s account relays from 1937-1957, encompassing all aspects of a modern Chinese family dwelling in the pre Sino-Japanese war era; contemporary, yet traditionalist.Born in an elite bourgeois social standing, Pearl enjoys all the privileges of being served and pampered. She and May known for their striking features acquire the title of Beautiful Girls, posing for all modeling and artistic calendars. Insensitive to lesser mortals, Pearl envisions her life with Z.G. her coy crush with whom she would marry and reside away from her family. At the age of 21, all her dreams come crashing down as her father loses the family fortune in a gambling tryst. In order to save his family from ruins he unwillingly promises his daughters to the sons of Old Man Louie, an American-Chinese, creating a merciful situation amid all members. Thus, begins a death defying and deceitful journey that questions the love between the two sisters amid their destiny to be bonded as a family.
As the narration proceeds, one witness the family going through impoverish circumstances, coerced arranged marriages, the advent of Sino-Japanese war and later a masquerade of veiled secrets and acrid relationships.
It is during the Sino-Japanese war that Pearl discovers her true destiny. A brutal rape attack by the Japanese soldiers leaves her mother dead and Pearl is besieged by the prospect of normality and childless procurement.
“It is said that a Dragon born in a storm will have a particularly tempestuous fate. You always believe you are right, and this makes you do things you shouldn’t. You’re a Dragon, and of all the signs only a Dragon can tame the fates. Only a Dragon can wear the horns of destiny, duty, and power. Your sister is merely a Sheep. You have always been a better mother to her than I have.”
True to her Dragon persona, Pearl shields May’s illicit pregnancy from her in-laws and even goes to adopt her daughter Joy, unknown to the fact that the existence of Joy will open an envelope of treachery and remorse.
Every one of us has in him a continent of undiscovered character. Blessed is he who acts the Columbus to his own soul.
Pearl found her fierce element that helped her to conceal her fate with May forgivingly whilst adamantly coming in her own as a devoted mother who she never knew existed.
Lisa comes very close to penning a flawless novel. Alas! With a sluggish start and the open lucidity of an inexplicable plot, the book at times fails to capture the mandatory attention making one skip the repetitive description to bypass the stagnated phase. Nevertheless, it is unproblematic to overlook this criterion and discover the brilliance of Lisa See.