Sunday, May 15, 2011
This story picks up where Shanghai Girls - a story about Pearl and May- two Shanghai sisters ended. The novel opens in the late 1950’s, with Joy, a Chinese–American girl raised as Pearl’s daughter but actually May’s daughter, leaving for China. Joy is estranged from her mother and aunt and is returning to China to discover her true roots, participate in the building of the People’s Republic and find her real father (get the soap opera qualities of this story yet?).
Joy finds her father, Z.G., a famous communist artist. She accompanies him as he is sent to the Chinese countryside for “reeducation”. In the countryside Joy falls in love with Tao a young villager who aspires to be an artist like Z.G. Meanwhile Pearl has followed Joy to China to attempt to reconcile with her and have Joy return to the U.S.
The story is told in alternating first person narratives by Joy and Pearl, a technique that works well here. Without giving you blow by blow of the story, suffice to say every horrible aspect of China’s struggles in the late 1950’s and early 60s are depicted in the lives of Joy, Pearl, Tao and Z.G. Scenes of public denunciation and punishment for all who are deemed not “red” enough are integral to the story. The disillusionment of the Chinese when communism is discovered to be the latest iteration of failed government to inflicted misery on the poor people of this country is shown. The starvation that killed millions in China when The Great Leap Forward failed is movingly portrayed in the story. Almost unimaginable things – cannibalism, and other barbaric practices were not unknown through this time period. Lastly the struggles of people to leave China and escape to Hong Kong and the west are also chronciled here.
I know the review reads like soap and in some ways the story does also but it really is a good read - lots of action, a genuine historical setting, characters that we have grown to know and like. If you read and liked Shanghai Girls, you will enjoy this one. If you haven’t I’d read that one before reading Dreams of Joy. If you want to read Lisa See's best historical fiction read Snow Flower and the Secret Fan a fabulous book
I read an advanced reader copy of this novel provided by the publisher.