Saltwater Sister (Thesis)

As a 2014 Martin A. Dale Fellow, I will be researching and revising my senior thesis novel, set in Shanghai during the 1930s and modern day.


About the Novel


Tara, a disaffected 20-something, American-born Chinese girl, returns to China for her grandmother's funeral. She inherits a set of mementos from her grandmother that reveals mysterious details about her grandma's history in 1930s Shanghai, including a triangular relationship with a British-Jewish businessman and his Shanghainese wife. Feeling an urge to reconnect with her alienated Chinese roots and discover something akin to her grandmother’s sexual awakening, Tara stays in Shanghai and attempts to uncover the details of her grandmother’s life on the eve of the Japanese occupation.


During her investigations, Tara gets caught between a dispute among local Shanghainese residents and international real estate developers who want to tear down the neighborhood that she has recently moved into. She becomes complicit in a larger trend in China's urban development, and struggles to capture the last remnants of her grandmother's world as she watches it destroyed in front of her eyes.


The novel alternates between two time periods and point-of-views: the 21st century and 1930s Shanghai. It is an intergenerational coming-of-age narrative that questions the romanticism of China's past and the consequences of its present. My thesis integrates historical and archival research about life in Shanghai during the 1930s and research on the human consequences of Chinese urban development since the 1990s. These include first-hand accounts, visual artifacts, lived experience, archival documents, and oral interviews with current residents of Shanghai's ever dwindling historic neighborhoods.