Shanghai Girls by Lisa See

shanghai-girls1In 1937 Shanghai, Pearl and her sister May are living a glamorous, sophisticated life, modeling as “beautiful girls” for the painters of magazine covers and calendar pages. Their sheltered, privileged world comes to a shattering halt when their Father loses everything and he must sell them into marriage. At first they are able to escape this fate, but when the war begins and the Japanese attack their beloved city, they must flee for their lives.

Shanghai Girls by Lisa See follows the harrowing journey that the sisters must undertake – the hardship, the pain and the betrayals as they try to escape the Japanese and find a safe haven first in Hong Kong, then in San Francisco. Throughout it all the sisters remain each others staunchest supporters through good times and bad, through arranged marriages, lost children and oppressive discrimination. Their triumph is that, not only do they emerge from their trials as stronger people, they come through it together.

See also wrote the wildly popular Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, also set in China, and has done extensive research to fill her story with authentic detail. Her story gives us unique views of the past – the Japanese invasion of China and the suffering of the Chinese people at their conquerors hands, the discrimination against the Chinese in America and the Red Scare fear of communist threat that created suspicion against the Chinese in America in the 1950s.

While the trails and suffering that Pearl and May must endure sometimes seem almost endless, the author has left us with a cliffhanger ending, promising a possible sequel and future hope for the beautiful girls from Shanghai.


dday1D-Day was June 6th, 1944.  This year marks its 65th anniversary.  For those who served so long ago, let us take a moment to remember them.  As members of that generation die out, we lose those incredibly precious first-hand accounts.  For those of us born later, we can always rely on the history that has been faithfully recorded  in books and videos.

Check out D-Day:Reflections of Courage, a DVD put out by BBC Video. Shot on location and told from the various point-of-views of American, British, French and German participants, it is an excellent overview of this historic day.

ten-days-to-d-day1If you prefer a written version, try Ten Days to D-Day by David Stafford. The Normandy invasion was the largest single-day amphibious invasion of all time, landing 160,000 troops on that fateful day in June. An operation that large, involving several different governments and armies required unprecedented planning. Told from several points-of-view, from the Generals and Presidents to the soldiers and civilians, this is a gripping story of courage and sacrifice.

the-longest-dayYou might also want to take a look at The Longest Day by Cornelius Ryan, the acknowledged classic of the invasion. Ryan interviewed participants shortly after the war while memories were still fresh and skillfully weaves their personal stories into the overall history. A must-read for history buffs.

And watch for the ongoing Honor Flights, now being conducted throughout the country (Davenport just sent a group in April; another is scheduled for October) Volunteers fly veterans of World War II to Washington D.C. to visit the recently built World War II Memorial. All expenses for the veterans are paid by contributions – a small return to these everyday heroes from a grateful nation.

The Piano Teacher by Janice Lee

the-piano-teacherWhat would you do, what choices would you make if a war arrived in your once peaceful life? Who would you save and who would you betray? Your friends, your family, your country – even yourself – to save yourself? And one day, when the war is over and you return to some semblence of your life, how would you live with those choices? Can you ever escape the past?

The Piano Teacher by Janet Lee explores those questions in the exotic world of Hong Kong before, during and after World War II. Arriving in Hong Kong ten years after the war, Claire Pendleton soon begins an affair with Will Truesdale, the English driver of a powerful Hong Kong family. Gradually she learns that Will hides many secrets – his love affair with the Eurasian heiress Trudy Liang before the war, his experiences as a prisoner-of-war, his current plan to right past wrongs. Almost without her knowledge, she’s swept up into a story that was set in motion years in the past.

Lee writes beautifully, evoking the glamour and glitz of pre-war Hong Kong and the horrors and suffering of the war years with equal clarity. This is an eye-opening look at a lesser known arena of the war and at how people struggled to survive. It’s richly populated with interesting characters and their stories, not the least of which is Hong Kong herself, exotic and mysterious and full of secrets.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

Already a favorite with book clubs, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is a charming novel that will make you laugh and cry about characters that seem as real as your neighbors.

During World War II Guernsey Island, situated in the English Channel, was invaded and occupied by the Germans beginning in 1940. All communication with England was completely cut off for nearly five years. The cruel practices of the German commanders and near starvation conditions forged strong bonds among the islanders.

Written as a series of letters between Londoner Juliet Ashton and the residents of the island shortly after the war, the history of the occupation of the island and the resident’s struggles to survive is slowly revealed. As the stories are told, a vivid picture of the people is painted – their strengths and weaknesses, their quirks and cleverness, their loyalty to and concern for others. When Juliet finally arrives at the island to visit, she is welcomed as part of the family and quickly takes her place in island lore.

There is a satisfying end to the book, but all of the characters suffer losses; it is their ability to move on while remembering and honoring what happened that make them so real and makes their stories come to life. Treat yourself to this novel – you’ll be glad you did.

Davenport Library Podcast #3 – General Patton scolds QC Man

032008.jpgImagine being so valuable to Uncle Sam he gives you an unlimited expense account and has bombers dispatched across the ocean just to pick you up. All this, and none of the rules that restrict enlisted men.

Welcome to the life of a plucky and resourceful Air Force Civilian Technician and Quad Citian named Harold Labonte, in this week’s Davenport Public Library Podcast #3.

Davenport Public Library Podcast #1

The Davenport Public Library is happy to announce the creation of our own weekly-ish podcast. The intent of the program is to focus on the Quad-Cities community and library issues in general.

Some of our podcasts will present the highlights of interviews conducted with local area veterans as part of the World War II/Korean War oral history project conducted . Our very first podcast looks at the experiences of area veteran Robert Rubley as a minesweeper (15:01).

Please subscribe to this free show in the Itunes music store so you’ll get a piping hot MP3 every time a new episode comes out. Or, just stream them off this blog by hitting “Play” below.