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Dreams of Joy: A Novel by Lisa See

March 16, 2012

Dreams of Joy, by Lisa See. Random House Trade Paperbacks (2012), Edition: Reprint, Paperback, 400 pages

An enjoyable sequel to See’s novel Shanghai Girls, in which Joy, the daughter of Pearl and May, enters the Communist China of the late 1950s and her mother follows.

Lisa See has written abundantly and informatively about China. Her books are grounded in her knowledge of China, U.S.A. and the people who move between them. She is part of a large extended Chinese American family who owned a major import store in Los angles. Among her books are a history of her family, two books rewriting centuries-old Chinese books for modern readers, and a detective series set in Communist China with a Chinese woman and American man working together to solve cases in both China and the US. Her Shanghai Girls is a historical novel about two sisters from Shanghai in the 1930s, when it was the “Paris of Asia,” being forced to leave the city when the Japanese attack it. Their struggles eventually take them to Los Angles where they settle and raise the daughter of one of the sisters.

Dreams of Joy begins with the tragedy and revelations which ended Shanghai Sisters. The daughter, Joy, is ashamed of her unwitting role in events and angry at the lies of mother and aunt. She abruptly leaves home and goes to Shanghai, intent on finding her biological father. Her mother follows, twenty years after she left the city. While in China, mother and daughter both face their own pasts and futures, but most of all both struggle with choices they have made and with their love for and ambiguity toward each other. The book moves back and forth between chapters narrated by the mother and the daughter.

See takes readers into the villages and cities of Communist China during the period of its Great Leap Forward when suffering was intense. Unblinkingly, See describes both the dreams and the pain of the country. Aloof from taking sides politically, she is able to be sensitive to and critical of both China and the United States.

I always find See’s books enjoyable and informative, but I think this is her best. Perhaps I am biased because of her fine treatment of the relationship of a mother and daughter. The mother’s pain, pride, and yearning to make things right for her daughter is almost palatable as is the daughter’s rebellion and idealism. See’s treatment of this theme is an example of what I think is gained with the expanding popularity of well-written novels by and about women.

Dreams of Joy is a fine book, recommended to all mothers and daughters or those interested in them. And for anyone interested in Communist China in the 1950s. And anyone just looking for a good read.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. March 17, 2012 7:43 pm

    I read Snow Flower and The Secret Fan and loved it. I need to read more of See’s work. I look forward to reading this one too.

  2. December 27, 2012 10:34 pm

    I was pretty pleased to find this page. I wanted to thank you for
    ones time due to this wonderful read!! I definitely enjoyed every little bit of
    it and I have you book marked to check out new things in your website.


  1. Recommended historical fiction, memoirs, and mysteries by people of color. | Me, you, and books

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