Nina's Reading Blog

Comments on books I am reading/listening to

Dreams of Joy

Posted by nliakos on March 3, 2016

by Lisa See (Random House, 2011; ISBN 978-1-4000-6712-1)

My daughter Vicki borrowed this sequel to Shanghai Girls from the library for me. She figured I would want to read it, since I had read and enjoyed the other one. She was right! The book continues the story of Pearl Chin, her sister May, and their daughter Joy, who as the story opens in Los Angeles has just discovered that her Aunt May is actually her mother, while her mother Pearl is actually her aunt. Shocked to discover that she has been lied to, guilt-ridden over her role in Pearl’s husband’s suicide, and naively enthusiastic about the Communist takeover of China, Joy runs away to China, to find her biological father and to help build the new society. Pearl follows her there, and the chapters are narrated from either Joy’s or Pearl’s points of view.

In Shanghai, Joy finds her father, the artist Z. G., without any difficulty, and joins him on a trip to a rural village where he is supposed to give art lessons and learn to be politically correct from the peasants. Joy meets a handsome young peasant man to whom she is immediately attracted, makes friends in the village, and thinks she has finally found her place, although there are danger signs that she ignores. The work is hard and the amenities sorely lacking, but at least there is plenty to eat.

Pearl also makes it to Shanghai and finds a place for herself in her parents’ former home, where the family’s cook has become the person in charge of the residents there. She gets a menial job and settles in to wait for Z. G. and Joy to return to Shanghai, which they eventually do. She then sets about trying to re-establish trust between herself and Joy, with an eye toward persuading her to return to Los Angeles–which Joy refuses to do, being committed to building the Communist society. Joy is nothing if not headstrong, and she ends up marrying the handsome villager–much to her immediate regret.  Pearl eventually retreats to Shanghai, leaving Joy to deal with a husband who does not love her, a demanding mother-in-law, a large family, and extreme poverty. But that is nothing compared to what happens when Chairman Mao launches The Great Leap Forward, a four-year (1958-1962) initiative that resulted in a famine which killed many millions of Chinese. It will take all the characters’ intelligence and strength to rescue Joy and her baby girl from starvation and to escape from China. Along the way, Pearl finds love in an unexpected place, Z. G. discovers how to be a father to the child he never knew he had sired, and Joy finally realizes how much she is loved.

An excellent novel! I’d recommend reading Shanghai Girls first.

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