Rebecca B edited the summary of Shanghai Girls Sunday, March 27, 2011.
Beginning in the late 1930s and ending in the early 1950s, this novel chronicles the lives of two Chinese sisters, Pearl and May, originally of Shanghai. They live luxurious lives, by most Chinese standards, while they are teenagers. They are not proper Chinese girls because they often do not follow their parents' orders and work as "Beautiful Girls" or models for advertisement painters of the time. Their sheltered world comes crashing down around them, both literally and figuratively, when they discover their father has gambled away the family's money and due to his outrageous debt, he sells his daughters as brides for two brothers. The brothers are Chinese, but have American citizenship. The girls are trying to figure out how to avoid leaving China and becoming wives of strangers when Shanghai is attacked by the Japanese. Barely escaping death, the girls and their mother survive great tortures in an attempt to get to safety. The girls end up in America, with their arranged husbands, after spending a long time at Angel Island, an immigration station. The rest of the story follows the lives of these two sisters and the consequences of the very different choices they make. During a time when most foreigners are considered enemies, Pearl and May find a way to carve out a place for themselves in one of Los Angeles's Chinatowns and live out their fates.