In the last few months, I’ve listened to three books by Lisa See (on mp3 while I knit). I have to say that she is one of my favorite authors.
Shanghai Girls – This novel tells the story of two sisters who grew up in Shanghai during the 1930s, but are forced to leave when the Japanese reach the city. They had both been married to Chinese men who lived in Los Angeles, so they make their way from Shanghai to Hong Kong to San Francisco and then on to Los Angeles. The rest of the story is about the sisters and their husbands’ family’s life in Chinatown. The author does an excellent job of developing believable characters and drawing the reader into the setting. I learned quite a bit about Chinese culture and the persecution faced by the Chinese at the hands of our government in the mid-twentieth century. A
Snow Flower and the Secret Fan – Snow Flower and Lily are two girls growing up in medieval China who become “old sames”, life-long friends with a ceremony performed when they are children. We watch them grow up, get their feet bound, learn to perform household tasks, and even learn “women’s writing” (since women were supposed to be illiterate). The story continues through their marriages as one moves up in society and the other down. Again, the author has given us characters with whom we can sympathize and shows us a part of Chinese society that most of us would never learn about otherwise. A
Peony in Love – This is the least “conventional” of the three Lisa See novels that I have read. Peony, a girl engaged to be married, becomes enamored of a man she believes that she cannot have because of her engagement. She then becomes obsessed with “The Peony Pavilion”, a popular opera. This story takes place in the 17th century and explores deep emotions and women’s desire and need to express themselves. We see the contrast between the reality of women being relegated to the “women’s chamber” and the desire of the women themselves to be heard by the outside world. A
In addition to enjoying the books themselves, I liked listening to them being read by Janet Song. Whether you choose to read them or listen to them, I think you’ll find it worth your time.