Part 1: Fate
The story begins in 1937 in Shanghai China. It is here where we meet two sisters Pearl and May Chin. The girls live a comfortable bourgeois life where they work as beautiful girls who use their beauty to sell everything from soap to cigarettes. Soon their lives will be changed forever. The girls are sold by their father into arrainged marriages with two American brothers and they beloved Shanghai is under attack as Japanese bombs fall on the city. The girls must survive the hardships of war as they make their way to America-- a dangerous journey itself-- to join their husbands in their new home. Upon they arrival in San Francisco the girls face a tedious immigration process on Angel Island where their relationship grows stronger as they share a dangerous life long secret-- one that must be kept at all costs.
Part 2: Fortune
Pearl and May finally meet their new family and settle in with them. The girls are shocked at how their new family lives -- it is not at all what they expected. Here the girls strive for acceptance, they face discrimination and inequality. The girls work long hours with little pay for their father-in-laws many businesses in China City. Pearl soon learns to love her husband and they form a loving bond however May is reluctant to love her husband. Through their troubles the girls try to continue to embrace their Chinese culture.
Part 3: Destiny
The sisters finally accept their new roles and responsibilities in their lives but still they stuggle with new obsticles and tragedies. Through it all their strength as a family grows. They fear citizenship and deportation as they confron the ugly misconceptions of war. In the end, Pearl returns to where it all began, finally understanding her unchanging fate.
This is the first novel that I have read by Lisa See and I have to say that I was impressed. I was hooked from page one and I found it extremely difficult to put it down. The details that See gives are amazing—I felt like I was transported back in time—back to the 1930’s Shanghai. She describes the city of Shanghai in entirety from the poorest of poor to the aristocracy in striking detail as well has the harsh reality of war time. I also found that See creates characters that come to life and she is able to convey the characters emotions with ease. The Chinese culture and the struggles and hardships for Chinese-Americans are clearly stated and noticeably researched in depth.
Even though this is a piece of historical fiction, it is also a story of sisterhood and many times if found myself comparing Pearl and May’s relationship to that of mine and my sisters—and the similarities were astronomical! Many of the same emotions and thoughts, the arguments and the jealousies that the characters have are some of the very same that my sister and I have been through.
I found that the details of the city life were reminiscent of Memoirs of a Geisa in the way that it was written with the immense amount of details that allows the scenes to come to life before your eyes. This is my first literary trip to China and I will definitely be returning. I can’t wait to read the sequel Dreams of Joy.