Friday, July 9, 2010

Women's Stories

Lisa See's Shanghai Girls is not only itself a story about two women - sisters Pearl and May - but also a testament to the power of women's stories.

Early in the book, Pearl and May draw strength, as they flee from war-torn Shanghai, from their mother's story about the moon sisters. Mama had, in turn, listened to and learned from her own mother's stories.

As the novel nears its conclusion, Pearl, as the book's narrator, reaffirms the significance of women telling one another their stories:
So often we're told that women's stories are unimportant. After all, what does it matter what happens in the main room, in the kitchen, or in the bedroom? Who cares about the relationships between mother, daughter, and sister? A baby's illness, the sorrows and pains of childbirth, keeping the family together during war, poverty, or even in the best of days are considered small and insignificant compared with the stories of men, who fight against nature to grow their crops, who wage battles to secure their homelands, who struggle to look inward in search of the perfect man. We're told that men are strong and brave, but I think women know how to endure, accept defeat, and bear physical and mental agony much better than men. ...

If we hear that women's stories are insignificant, then we're also told that good things always come in pairs and bad things happen in threes. ... The Louie family's tragedies arrive in a long and devastating cascade like a waterfall, like a dam burst open, like a tidal wave that breaks, destroys, and then pulls the evidence back to sea. Our men try to act strong, but it is May, Yen-yen, Joy, and I who must steady them and help them bear their pain, anguish, and shame. [pages 228-229]

When I reached the final words of the novel, I found myself hoping to hear more about Pearl's life, her destiny, as well as that of her daughter Joy. I want to know more of these women's stories.


alisonwonderland said...

I posted some additional thoughts about Shanghai Girls on my book blog.

Bonnie Jacobs said...

Your comments about women's stories are very insightful, Alison. Thank you.

I should have already written a couple of posts about this month's (July's) book. I'll try to get that done today. My apologies, everybuddy.