I've had it in my to-read list for quite a while, but somehow delayed reading it until this June - Shanghai Girls by Lisa See. This is my first time reading a novel by Lisa See and I must say I was impressed!
I loved the way she described the sights, sounds and scents of Shanghai. The rickshaw pullers, the vendor selling noodles - even the apathetic way the lead characters would step over dead babies in the streets. There is something distinctly Asian about Lisa See's descriptions, I related her Shanghai streets to the village streets in the Philippines where I grew up. We didn't have dead babies in the street, but the smells associated with food sold from a cart or a mobile vendor - the depictions of poor neighborhoods and affluent ones just living side by side together. Lisa See took me to Shanghai and made me appreciate the city as the two sisters did.
And though I grew up several decades after this story was written, the relationships between family members: husbands, daughters, sisters and mothers - were very easy to relate to. I have heard stories of how it was when our country was fighting the Japanese - and the lead characters' experience with Japanese cruelty was shocking yet my grandmother told me about this - she was a young girl during World War II. The apathy of the sisters to what was going on around them - I could easily understand - I lived through some parts of the martial law regime in our country and the terror failed to touch me until years later when I studied what had gone on. Protected children of the middle class - shielded from the violence and the ugliness around by their parents - I actually lived that life!
The sisters' experience when they moved to Los Angeles - how different their lives were - was almost how I first viewed Los Angeles when I immigrated here. Their observations on how people who work so hard here - and live in poverty-stricken conditions - go home to China as though they are very wealthy men - are still true for some of my countrymen today. How they work so hard, save up as much as they could, send money home so that they can retire there later on - that's the story of most overseas Filipino workers I know.
All the heartbreak - the poverty, discrimination, living in fear, losing a child and their parents - you will feel each painful experience with the lead characters. But you will also survive with them - survive and triumph. You will learn how inspite of everything they have been through they have no choice but to move on - to go on and live!
It's a very inspiring story that opened my eyes to a lot of things I didn't understand about the Chinese culture here in America. It's an enlightening read - a bridge that may lead us to respect and admire our neighbors more. I highly recommend adding this to your reading list this summer!