Thursday, October 6, 2011

Those Summer Nights (My Lisa See Summer)

So, one of my favorite authors that I recently discovered this summer and loved was Lisa See. Among many other things, she wrote Snowflower and the Secret Fan, Shanghai Girls, and Dreams of Joy. But just let me tell you, I fell in love with her writing. Thus, this post is somewhat of a review of the four books I read of hers this summer, Shanghai Girls, Dreams of Joy, Snowflower and the Secret Fan, and Peony in Love. 

The first novel I read from Lisa See was Shanghai Girls. I instantly fell in love with the story, and I have to say that the characters are so well-developed and strong. I just love everything about the book.  Here's a snippet of the synopsis, as found on See's website.

"In 1937, Shanghai is the Paris of Asia, full of great wealth and glamour, home to millionaires and beggars, gangsters and gamblers, patriots and revolutionaries, artists and warlords. Twenty-one-year-old Pearl Chin and her younger sister May are having the time of their lives, thanks to the financial security and material comforts provided by their father’s prosperous rickshaw business. Though both wave off authority and traditions, they couldn’t be more different. Pearl is a Dragon sign, strong and stubborn, while May is a true Sheep, adorable and placid. Both are beautiful, modern, and living the carefree life ... until the day their father tells them that he has gambled away their wealth, and that in order to repay his debts he must sell the girls as wives to suitors who have traveled from Los Angeles to find Chinese brides.
"As Japanese bombs fall on their beloved city, Pearl and May set out on the journey of a lifetime, one that will take them through the villages of south China, in and out of the clutch of brutal soldiers, and across the Pacific to the foreign shores of America."

Okay, it sounded amazing when I started, but it just got better. See has this way of letting the characters speak for themselves, and you could almost pick out voices, tones, inflections in each one's voice. The plot's revealing of 1937's French Concession as well as America through the eyes of a Chinese immigrant was also so intriguing. It also has some interesting and totally throwing plot lines that make for an exciting ride. The story is narrated by Pearl (the older sister), which I thought I might add if I'm telling about its sequel (That's right! It's book 1 of 2). I can't say enough about what's inside the book. As for the cover, I love it, especially because it shows an example of what Z.G.'s work would be like, I think. It just made it come to life, and it's so beautifully done. I would definitely prompt you to pick up this book. And the cliff-hanger ending was almost too much for me... just thought I'd let you know...

The sequel to Shanghai Girls is Dreams of Joy. I don't want to give too much away if you're going to read the first book, which I beg you to do. Therefore, I can't let you read a synopsis. But I will tell you a little about it.

It definitely held my expectations from the first book, which were high. It was full of mystery, adventure, suffering, and hope. And dreams of course. And Joy, who's the daughter and neice of Pearl and May. Haha! :) I liked how it was titled. But it's all about Joy venturing back to the People's Republic of China after an encounter involving Communist ties in her college. This led to struggle in the family because it was when the Chinese were being investigated and communism was as well. It was full of history, which See does such a wonderful job at as well. I can't go much farther than to say that I really enjoyed the story line, which was full of good surprises. As far as the cover goes, I love the blue. It compliments Shanghai Girls really well too.

In the end, you should really read both of them. They're both pieces of literature that shan't be missed. See does a wonderful job.

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan was one of the favorites this summer. After hearing all about the upcoming movie and the buzz around the current novel, I knew that I had to keep up my current Lisa See reading because I loved it so much. This one naturally fell in line. Here's a snippet from Lisa See's website:

"This absorbing novel – with a storyline unlike anything Lisa See has written before – takes place in 19th century China when girls had their feet bound, then spent the rest of their lives in seclusion with only a single window from which to see.  Illiterate and isolated, they were not expected to think, be creative, or have emotions. But in one remote county, women developed their own secret code, nu shu – "women's writing" – the only gender-based written language to have been found in the world.  Some girls were paired as "old-sames" in emotional matches that lasted throughout their lives.  They painted letters on fans, embroidered messages on handkerchiefs, and composed stories, thereby reaching out of their windows to share their hopes, dreams, and accomplishments.
An old woman tells of her relationship with her "old-same," their arranged marriages, and the joys and tragedies of motherhood—until a terrible misunderstanding written on their secret fan threatens to tear them apart."

This was so incredibly moving, and I could see everything that happened unfold before my eyes. It revolves around a girl named Lily and her lao tong (old-sames), Snow Flower. It's a big deal because Lily is of a lower class than Lily, but Lily's bound feet are perfect, and this lao-tong match will help Lily to be wed to a rich groom in years to come. This match leads to a great wealth of intriguing plotlines, and again, See comes out with the greatest novel ever! I just loved every bit of it, and my copy of it had fringed exteriors, which made it look like ancient paper. I loved it. I couldn't stop reading until I was done, and that's the simple truth. Everyone should read this book. It's that simple. I don't think I adequately described it  here. But it's a best seller! 'Nuff said!

Now Peony in Love was a far different read than I had ever indulged in before, but I really did like it. Read the snippet from Lisa See's website for this one too:

"For young Peony, betrothed to a suitor she has never met, the lyrics from The Peony Pavilion mirror her own longings. In the garden of the Chen Family Villa, amidst the scents of ginger, green tea, and jasmine, a small theatrical troupe is performing choice scenes from this epic opera, a live spectacle few girls, even women, have ever seen. Like the heroine in the drama, Peony too is cloistered and from a wealthy family, trapped like a good-luck cricket in a bamboo-and-lacquer cage. Though raised to be obedient, Peony has dreams of her own. 
"Peony's mother is against the production: “Unmarried girls should not be seen in public.” But Peony's father prevails, assuring his wife that proprieties will be maintained. Women will watch the opera from behind a screen to hide them from view. Yet through its cracks, Peony catches sight of an elegant, handsome man with hair as black as a cave -- and is immediately overcome with too many emotions.
"So begins Peony's unforgettable journey of love and destiny, desire and sorrow -- as Lisa See's haunting new novel takes readers back to 17th century China, after the Manchus seize power and the Ming dynasty is crushed. Steeped in traditions and ritual, this story brings to life another time and place -- even the intricate realm of the afterworld, with its protocols, pathways, and stages of existence . . . a vividly imagined place where one’s soul is divided into three, ancestors are worshiped, misdeeds are punished, and hungry ghosts wander the earth.
"Based on a true story, Peony in Love uses the richness and magic of the Chinese afterlife to transcend death and explore the many manifestations of love.  Ultimately, it’s about universal themes: the bonds of female friendship, the power of words, the desire all women have to be heard, and finally those emotions that are so strong that they transcend time, place, and perhaps even death."

I can't quite put into words what I thought of this, but it touched upon some things in Chinese history that could not be done in other books. One example is the way they treat the dead or the belief in ghosts. It was all very interesting. I found the dynamics of this book to be really well done, and even though it was something new for me, I really enjoyed it in every way possible. On a side note, I love all of the covers of See's books. They're so elegant, aren't they?

So you pretty much have to read at least one of these books. I highly recommend them, and would be overjoyed to hear your opinion. The one thing I took away from reading these all consecutively was a love for China and its traditions. It's really full of culture and beauty and delicacy, and it shows in See's writing, which I love. So if you're the kind of person who likes historical fiction (or even if you're not), you should read these books. They're phenomenal!

'Til next time!

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