Monday, July 2, 2012


Pearl and May are "beautiful girls" in Shanghai; they are an artist's calendar models.  Pearl is older and more studious, but May is beautiful and charming and appears to be the family favorite.  While these two are out until all hours and spending money frivolously, their father is sealing their fates with arranged marriages to pay off his gambling debts.  And all this happens just as the Japanese are invading China.  Tragedy ensues, but the girls are resourceful enough to make their way to the U.S. and their unwanted husbands, who are living with their parents and trying to make a living in a touristy Chinese section of Los Angeles.  May is pregnant, and since her marriage was never consummated, the sisters make a pact to pass her daughter off as Pearl's.  The daughter, Joy, causes a tug-of-war between the two sisters, but generally the ruse works.  Pearl narrates this story of building a family with strangers, while her bond with her sister boomerangs from one extreme to the other—the ultimate love-hate relationship.  Pearl finally has to evaluate her performance as a mother and a wife and put her competition with May aside.  May, certainly not  blameless herself, commits an act of treachery that Pearl may not ever be able to forgive, regardless of May's motivation, and Joy naively puts their immigration status in jeopardy.  My only beef with this book is that you have to read the sequel, Dreams of Joy, to find out how everything pans out.

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