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3 Book Review: Author Lisa See

Updated on September 7, 2011

3 Book Reviews, 1 Author: Historical Fiction by Lisa See

Lisa See is a Chinese-American author who has written seven books of various genres; three historical fiction novels, three mystery novels, and a memoir. She has also contributed her writing skills to the a book containing essays and stories on growing up bi-racial, called "Half & Half. In 2001, she was named "National Woman of the Year" by the Organization of Chinese American Women.

I have focused on her historical fiction novels in this review. These are the only books by Lisa See I have read, but I would definitely consider reading more of her work in the future, I have really enjoyed her writing. I would recommend all three of these books to anyone who enjoys historical fiction, is interested in the Chinese culture and history, enjoys learning about other traditions and cultural beliefs, or in the case of 'Peony in Love', has an interest in ghosts, the paranormal, or the afterlife. I also think anyone who really loves novels with well-developed characters that explores their different relationships would really enjoy these books as well.


Snow Flower and the Secret Fan

What It's About: This historical fiction novel is set in a remote county in 19th century China. It focuses on the a girl relationship of Lily, and Snow Flower, her laotong, or "old same"; an emotional match that binds the girls together for life. The girls exchange secret messages on silk fans, write stories on handkerchiefs, and communicate to each other through the years, as they grow up, go through the torture of foot-binding, and marry, where they begin the life of a Chinese woman at the time; a life of seclusion. The girls form a close bond, until a misunderstanding threatens to rip their friendship, and lives, apart.

My Thoughts: I thought the book was tragic, beautiful & haunting. I became completely absorbed in it. The book is an interesting glimpse into the traditional world of the women in China during the 1800's, which allowed the author to weave a story that is captivating, as well as culturally educational.

Lisa See's ability to use words to create a believable atmosphere is phenomenal. It is not just descriptive of the relationships & the setting, but poetic & captivating. It is an emotional journey, filled with sadness, heartbreak, love, friendship, and hope. It has definitely taken it's place in my heart as one of my favourite books ever.

Peony in Love

What It's About: 'Peony in Love' is not your typical historical fiction novel, because it essentially takes a paranormal turn. Young Peony, engaged to marry a man she has never met, becomes at first intrigued, but then obsessed with the play 'The Peony Pavilion'. When she falls in love with another young man, she pines away for him until her last breath, re-enacting the play in her own life. Based on actual historical events, the book follows Peony through a journey of obsession, heartbreak, and haunting tragedy. It weaves the Chinese traditions and rituals through a story of love, and loss.

My Thoughts: I was a little hesitant to pick this book up at first, but I was very glad I did. I did not enjoy it quite as much as 'Snow Flower and the Secret Fan', but I still think it is a great book.  The story seems to start off a little slow, but the simple start to the story is the anchor that ties it all together. It's worth it to stick with it, because the story that evolves in a remarkable tale that explores the realms of both life and death. It is very emotionally engaging, and vividly descriptive. This novel really captured the Chinese vision of the afterlife. The way the world of the dead & the living is intertwined in this novel is a remarkable glimpse into the traditions and beliefs of the Chinese people concerning death. See was able to achieve this while also telling an amazing and historically significant story based on something that really occured


Shanghai Girls

What It's About: Shanghai Girls follows the lives of sisters Pearl and May Chin. It begins in Shanghai in 1937, where the girls are leading a very prosperous life, thanks to their father's rickshaw business. It all comes crashing down the day their father reveals that he has gambled away all his wealth, and sold his daughters as wives to Chinese men living in California so that he can repay his debt. It follows them on their dangerous journey to their new lives in California, through adapting to American culture and their new family, their fight against discrimination, and their search for happiness, and a secret only they share that will follow them. Through-out it all, it is a story about sisters, who are both best friends and bitter rivals at times.

What I Thought: Though it is my least favourite of the three Lisa See books, I still really enjoyed it, and thought it was quite well-written. Lisa See does an incredible job of developing the relationship between the sisters. Their relationship is really the core of the story, but the atmosphere and sub-plots through-out it are like the ice-cream on the top of the pie; a little extra treat. The story may be centered around the sisters, but there is a lot more action to the story than that. She was really able to capture the essence of what was occurring politically at the time, and re-create the feeling of what it would have been like to be there.

More Books By Lisa See...

On Gold Mountain: The One-Hundred-Year Odyssey of My Chinese-American Family
On Gold Mountain: The One-Hundred-Year Odyssey of My Chinese-American Family

Lisa's memoir about the remarkable history of her ancestor's lives.



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