Shanghai, 1937. Pearl and May are two sisters from a bourgeois family. Though their personalities are very different - Pearl is a Dragon sign, strong and stubborn, while May is a true Sheep, adorable and placid - they are inseparable best friends. Both are beautiful, modern and living a carefree life ... until the day their father tells them that he has gambled away the family's wealth, and that in order to repay his debts he must sell the girls as wives to two 'Gold Mountain' men: Americans.
As Japanese bombs fall on their beloved city, the two sisters set out on the journey of a lifetime, one that will take them through the villages of southern China, in and out of the clutches of brutal soldiers, and even across the ocean, through the humiliation of an anti-Chinese detention centre to a new, married life in Los Angeles's Chinatown. Here they begin a fresh chapter, despite the racial discrimination and anti-Communist paranoia, because now they have something to strive for: a young, American-born daughter, Joy.
Along the way there are terrible sacrifices, impossible choices and one devastating, life-changing secret, but through it all the two heroines of this astounding new novel by Lisa See hold fast to who they are - Shanghai girls.