by Lisa See
Sequel to Shanghai Girls
I didn't realize, when I initially ordered this book via Amazon's Vine Program, that it was a sequel to Lisa See's Shanghai Girls. I only knew that it was a new novel from the author of Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, a book I enjoyed several years back. Luckily, the story stands completely on its own; you don't need to know a single bit of the previous story to enjoy Dreams of Joy.
Joy, a young Chinese-American, is devastated to find out that the people she thought were her parents are actually her aunt and uncle. Her real mother, Joy's glamorous Aunt May, gave the baby to her sister when they escaped from China to America many years ago. Meanwhile, the father of the child remained in Communist China and became a famous painter. Joy decides that the best thing to do is to drop out of college, run away to China and find him so that together, they can join the "New China" that the Communists have created. Instead of the egalitarian utopia Joy expects, she discovers a country filled with poverty, hypocrisy, uncertainty, and destruction. Meanwhile, her newly widowed mother Pearl follows Joy to China, determined to get her out.
I thought the story was really interesting, but it is also one of the bleakest things I've read. I mean, this China seems hellbent on systematically destroying its people through deprivation and starvation - all the while hiding it behind a veil of progress and equality between the classes. As a pampered American only a few years older than Joy herself, I found the contrast between Joy's/my life and the Chinese peasants lives devastating. It made me question just how well China's doing now, too - I mean, if they were hiding this kind of horror in the 1950s, who can say that the same levels of suffering aren't being endured today, too? So if nothing else, the book has really gotten me to think about that.
It's also an enjoyable story because the characters are so delightful. OK, Joy's rather whiny, but she is an impetuous teenager who has just received a huge shock and then thrown herself into an extremely dangerous situation - I wouldn't be reacting all that well either. I admire her mother, Pearl, and the determination and devotion she gives to her daughter. I mean, following someone into Communist China – the very land Pearl fled in terror twenty years before – at the height of the Red Scare, with no certainty that you'll be able to get back out again...that takes guts. I was rooting for Pearl the entire time.
5 out of 5 stars
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