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Lisa See is a Chinese-American bestselling and award-winning author of historical fiction, mystery and thriller novels. She also has a nonfiction title to her name.

Ms. See is popularly known for writing the New York Times bestselling Snow Flower and the Secret Fan (2005), The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane (2017), Peony in Love (2007), and many others.

Born in Paris and raised in Los Angeles, Ms. See has held a varied career that includes being the West Coast Correspondent for Publishers Weekly, a role she served in for more than a decade, and working as a freelance journalist.

The recipient of several accolades, including the Golden Spike Award from the Chinese Historical Association of Southern California, the History Maker’s Award from the Chinese American Museum, and also named National Woman of the Year by the Organization of Chinese American Women, Ms. See's books have been published in 39 languages.

She currently lives in Los Angeles.

More about Lisa See

Genres: Historical Fiction, Mystery, Thriller

Born: 1955

United States

Website: https://www.lisasee.com/

Non Series

  • Snow Flower and the Secret Fan (2005)
  • Peony in Love (2007)
  • China Dolls (2014)
  • The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane (2017)
  • The Island of Sea Women (2019)
  • Lady Tan's Circle of Women (2023)

May and Pearl

  1. Shanghai Girls (2009)
  2. Dreams of Joy (2011)

Non-fiction

  1. On Gold Mountain: The One-Hundred-Year Odyssey of My Chinese-American Family (1995)

Red Princess Mystery

  1. The Flower Net (1997)
  2. The Interior (1999)
  3. Dragon Bones (2002)

Detailed book overview

Non Series

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan

In nineteenth-century China, when wives and daughters were foot-bound and lived in almost total seclusion, the women in one remote Hunan county developed their own secret code for communication: nu shu (“women’s writing”). Some girls were paired with laotongs, “old sames,” in emotional matches that lasted throughout their lives. They painted letters on fans, embroidered messages on handkerchiefs, and composed stories, thereby reaching out of their isolation to share their hopes, dreams, and accomplishments.

With the arrival of a silk fan on which Snow Flower has composed for Lily a poem of introduction in nu shu, their friendship is sealed and they become “old sames” at the tender age of seven. As the years pass, through famine and rebellion, they reflect upon their arranged marriages, loneliness, and the joys and tragedies of motherhood. The two find solace, developing a bond that keeps their spirits alive. But when a misunderstanding arises, their lifelong friendship suddenly threatens to tear apart.

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan
Director: Wayne Wang
Cast: Russell Wong, Bingbing Li, Archie Kao, Jun Ji-hyun, Coco Chiang, Hu Qing Yun, Shiping Cao, Ruijia Zhang, Vivian Wu
Author: Lisa See
First Release: 2005
ISBN: 978-0812980356
Publisher: Random House Trade Paperbacks
Peony in Love

For young Peony, betrothed to a suitor she has never met, these lyrics from The Peony Pavilion mirror her own longings. In the garden of the Chen Family Villa, amid the scent of ginger, green tea, and jasmine, a small theatrical troupe is performing scenes from this epic opera, a live spectacle few females have ever seen. 

Like the heroine in the drama, Peony is the cloistered daughter of a wealthy family, trapped like a good-luck cricket in a bamboo-and-lacquer cage. Though raised to be obedient, Peony has dreams of her own.

Peony’s mother is against her daughter’s attending the production: “Unmarried girls should not be seen in public.” But Peony’s father assures his wife that proprieties will be maintained, and that the women will watch the opera from behind a screen. Yet through its cracks, Peony catches sight of an elegant, handsome man with hair as black as a cave–and is immediately overcome with emotion.

So begins Peony’s unforgettable journey of love and destiny, desire and sorrow–as Lisa See’s haunting new novel, based on actual historical events, takes readers back to seventeenth-century China, after the Manchus seize power and the Ming dynasty is crushed.

Steeped in traditions and ritual, this story brings to life another time and place–even the intricate realm of the afterworld, with its protocols, pathways, and stages of existence, a vividly imagined place where one’s soul is divided into three, ancestors offer guidance, misdeeds are punished, and hungry ghosts wander the earth. 

Immersed in the richness and magic of the Chinese vision of the afterlife, transcending even death, Peony in Love explores, beautifully, the many manifestations of love.

Author: Lisa See
First Release: 2007
ISBN: 978-0812975222
Publisher: Random House Trade Paperbacks
China Dolls

San Francisco, 1938: A world’s fair is preparing to open on Treasure Island, a war is brewing overseas, and the city is alive with possibilities. Talented Grace, traditional Helen, and defiant Ruby, three young women from very different backgrounds, meet by chance at the exclusive and glamorous Forbidden City nightclub. The girls become fast friends, relying on one another through unexpected challenges and shifting fortunes. 

When their dark secrets are exposed and the invisible thread of fate binds them even tighter, they find the strength and resilience to reach for their dreams. But after the Japanese attack Pearl Harbor, paranoia and suspicion threaten to destroy their lives, and a shocking act of betrayal changes everything.

Author: Lisa See
First Release: 2014
ISBN: 978-0812982824
Publisher: Random House Trade Paperbacks
The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane

In their remote mountain village, Li-yan and her family align their lives around the seasons and the farming of tea. For the Akha people, ensconced in ritual and routine, life goes on as it has for generations—until a stranger appears at the village gate in a jeep, the first automobile any of the villagers has ever seen.

The stranger’s arrival marks the first entrance of the modern world in the lives of the Akha people. Slowly, Li-yan, one of the few educated girls on her mountain, begins to reject the customs that shaped her early life. When she has a baby out of wedlock—conceived with a man her parents consider a poor choice—she rejects the tradition that would compel her to give the child over to be killed, and instead leaves her, wrapped in a blanket with a tea cake tucked in its folds, near an orphanage in a nearby city.

As Li-yan comes into herself, leaving her insular village for an education, a business, and city life, her daughter, Haley, is raised in California by loving adoptive parents. Despite her privileged childhood, Haley wonders about her origins. Across the ocean Li-yan longs for her lost daughter. Over the course of years, each searches for meaning in the study of Pu’er, the tea that has shaped their family’s destiny for centuries.

Author: Lisa See
First Release: 2017
ISBN: 978-1501154836
Publisher: Scribner
The Island of Sea Women

Mi-ja and Young-sook, two girls living on the Korean island of Jeju, are best friends who come from very different backgrounds. When they are old enough, they begin working in the sea with their village’s all-female diving collective, led by Young-sook’s mother. As the girls take up their positions as baby divers, they know they are beginning a life of excitement and responsibility—but also danger.

Despite their love for each other, Mi-ja and Young-sook find it impossible to ignore their differences. The Island of Sea Women takes place over many decades, beginning during a period of Japanese colonialism in the 1930s and 1940s, followed by World War II, the Korean War, through the era of cell phones and wet suits for the women divers. 

Throughout this time, the residents of Jeju find themselves caught between warring empires. Mi-ja is the daughter of a Japanese collaborator. Young-sook was born into a long line of haenyeo and will inherit her mother’s position leading the divers in their village. Little do the two friends know that forces outside their control will push their friendship to the breaking point.

Author: Lisa See
First Release: 2019
ISBN: 978-1501154867
Publisher: Scribner
Lady Tan's Circle of Women

According to Confucius, “an educated woman is a worthless woman,” but Tan Yunxian—born into an elite family, yet haunted by death, separations, and loneliness—is being raised by her grandparents to be of use. Her grandmother is one of only a handful of female doctors in China, and she teaches Yunxian the pillars of Chinese medicine, the Four Examinations—looking, listening, touching, and asking—something a man can never do with a female patient.

From a young age, Yunxian learns about women’s illnesses, many of which relate to childbearing, alongside a young midwife-in-training, Meiling. The two girls find fast friendship and a mutual purpose—despite the prohibition that a doctor should never touch blood while a midwife comes in frequent contact with it—and they vow to be forever friends, sharing in each other’s joys and struggles. No mud, no lotus, they tell themselves: from adversity beauty can bloom.

But when Yunxian is sent into an arranged marriage, her mother-in-law forbids her from seeing Meiling and from helping the women and girls in the household. Yunxian is to act like a proper wife—embroider bound-foot slippers, pluck instruments, recite poetry, give birth to sons, and stay forever within the walls of the family compound, the Garden of Fragrant Delights.

How might a woman like Yunxian break free of these traditions, go on to treat women and girls from every level of society, and lead a life of such importance that many of her remedies are still used five centuries later? How might the power of friendship support or complicate these efforts?

Author: Lisa See
First Release: 2023
Ebook: B0BHTPR5BK
Publisher: Scribner

May and Pearl

Shanghai Girls

In 1937, Shanghai is the Paris of Asia, a city of great wealth and glamour, the home of millionaires and beggars, gangsters and gamblers, patriots and revolutionaries, artists and warlords. Thanks to the financial security and material comforts provided by their father’s prosperous rickshaw business, twenty-one-year-old Pearl Chin and her younger sister, May, are having the time of their lives. 

Though both sisters wave off authority and tradition, they couldn’t be more different: Pearl is a Dragon sign, strong and stubborn, while May is a true Sheep, adorable and placid. Both are beautiful, modern, and carefree . . . until the day their father tells them that he has gambled away their wealth and that in order to repay his debts he must sell the girls as wives to suitors who have traveled from California to find Chinese brides.

As Japanese bombs fall on their beloved city, Pearl and May set out on the journey of a lifetime, one that will take them through the Chinese countryside, in and out of the clutch of brutal soldiers, and across the Pacific to the shores of America. 

In Los Angeles they begin a fresh chapter, trying to find love with the strangers they have married, brushing against the seduction of Hollywood, and striving to embrace American life even as they fight against discrimination, brave Communist witch hunts, and find themselves hemmed in by Chinatown’s old ways and rules.

At its heart, Shanghai Girls is a story of sisters: Pearl and May are inseparable best friends who share hopes, dreams, and a deep connection, but like sisters everywhere they also harbor petty jealousies and rivalries. They love each other, but each knows exactly where to drive the knife to hurt the other the most. 

Along the way they face terrible sacrifices, make impossible choices, and confront a devastating, life-changing secret, but through it all the two heroines of this astounding new novel hold fast to who they are: Shanghai girls.

Author: Lisa See
First Release: 2009
ISBN: 978-0812980530
Publisher: Random House
Dreams of Joy

Reeling from newly uncovered family secrets, Joy runs away to Shanghai in early 1957 to find her birth father—the artist Z.G. Li, with whom both May and Pearl were once in love. Dazzled by him, and blinded by idealism and defiance, Joy throws herself into the New Society of Red China, heedless of the dangers in the Communist regime. 

Devastated by Joy’s flight and terrified for her safety, Pearl is determined to save her daughter, no matter the personal cost. From the crowded city to remote villages, Pearl confronts old demons and almost insurmountable challenges as she follows Joy, hoping for reconciliation. Yet even as Joy’s and Pearl’s separate journeys converge, one of the most tragic episodes in China’s history threatens their very lives

Author: Lisa See
First Release: 2011
ISBN: 978-0812980547
Publisher: Random House Trade Paperbacks

Non-fiction

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

In 1867, Lisa See's great-great-grandfather arrived in America, where he prescribed herbal remedies to immigrant laborers who were treated little better than slaves. His son Fong See later built a mercantile empire and married a Caucasian woman, in spite of laws prohibiting interracial marriage. Lisa herself grew up playing in her family's antiques store in Los Angeles's Chinatown, listening to stories of missionaries and prostitutes, movie stars and Chinese baseball teams.

With these stories and her own years of research, Lisa See chronicles the one-hundred-year-odyssey of her Chinese-American family, a history that encompasses racism, romance, secret marriages, entrepreneurial genius, and much more, as two distinctly different cultures meet in a new world.  

Author: Lisa See
First Release: 1995
ISBN: 978-0307950390
Publisher: Vintage

Red Princess Mystery

The Flower Net

In the depths of a Beijing winter, during the waning days of Deng Xiaoping’s reign, the U.S. ambassador’s son is found dead–his body entombed in a frozen lake. Around the same time, aboard a ship adrift off the coast of Southern California, Assistant U.S. Attorney David Stark makes a startling discovery: the corpse of a Red Prince, a scion of China’s political elite.

The Chinese and American governments suspect that the deaths are connected and, in an unprecedented move, they join forces to see justice done. In Beijing, David teams up with the unorthodox police detective Liu Hulan. In an investigation that brings them to every corner of China and sparks an intense attraction between the two, David and Hulan discover a web linking human trafficking to the drug trade to governmental treachery–a web reaching from the Forbidden City to the heart of Los Angeles and, like the wide flower net used by Chinese fishermen, threatening to ensnare all within its reach.

Author: Lisa See
First Release: 1997
ISBN: 978-0812978681
Publisher: Random House Trade Paperbacks
The Interior

While David Stark is asked to open a law office in Beijing, his lover, detective Liu Hulan, receives an urgent message from an old friend imploring her to investigate the suspicious death of her daughter, who worked for a toy company about to be sold to David’s new client, Tartan Enterprises.

Despite David’s protests, Hulan goes undercover at the toy factory in the rural village of Da Shui, deep in the heart of China. It is a place that forces Hulan to face a past she has long been running from. 

Once there, rather than finding answers to the girl’s death, Hulan unearths more questions, all of which point to possible crimes committed by David’s client. Suddenly Hulan and David find themselves on opposing sides: One of them is trying to expose a company and unearth a killer, while the other is ethically bound to protect his client. 

As pressures mount and danger increases, Hulan and David uncover universal truths about good and evil, right and wrong–and the sometimes subtle lines that distinguish them.

Author: Lisa See
First Release: 1999
ISBN: 978-0812978698
Publisher: Random House Trade Paperbacks
Dragon Bones

When the body of an American archaeologist is found floating in the Yangzi River, Ministry of Public Security agent Liu Hulan and her husband, American attorney David Stark, are dispatched to Site 518 to investigate. 

As Hulan scrutinizes this death—or is it a murder?—David, on behalf of the National Relics Bureau, tries to discover who has stolen from the site an artifact that may prove to the world China’s claim that it is the oldest uninterrupted civilization on earth. This artifact is not only an object of great monetary value but one that is emblematic of the very soul of China. 

Everyone—from the Chinese government, to a religious cult, to an unscrupulous American art collector—wants this relic, and some, it seems, may be willing to kill to get it. At stake in this investigation is control of China’s history and national pride, and even stability between China and the United States.

The troubled Hulan must overcome her own fears of failure, while David tries desperately to break through the shell that has built up around his wife. As Hulan and David are enmeshed in international schemes for power and the turbulence of their own relationship, these hunters after the truth become the hunted—in a fast-driving narrative set against the backdrop of the building of the Three Gorges Dam, the largest and most expensive project China has undertaken since the Great Wall and the subject of great international debate. It is here, in the heart of the Three Gorges, that David and Hulan will battle their enemies and their own natures to see who will win China’s dragon bones.

Author: Lisa See
First Release: 2002
ISBN: 978-0345440310
Publisher: Random House Trade Paperbacks