Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Julie's Review: Dreams of Joy

Dreams of Joy: A Novel Summary: See's Dreams of Joy picks up the story of sisters Pearl and May where Shanghai Girls left off: on the night in 1957 when Pearl's daughter, Joy, discovers that May is her true mother. While Shanghai Girls followed the sisters from their time as models in the glittering "Paris of Asia" to their escape from the Japanese invasion and their new life in Los Angeles, its sequel sends Pearl back to Shanghai twenty years later in pursuit of Joy, whose flight to China is propelled by anger, idealism, and a desire to find her true father, Z.G., an artist who may be falling out of favor with the Party. Joy goes with him deep into the countryside to the Green Dragon commune, where they take part in the energetic inception of Mao’s Great Leap Forward. But their collective dream of a communist paradise is soon overshadowed by hunger as the government’s bizarre agricultural mandates create a massive, relentless famine. Pearl, trapped in Shanghai as travel restrictions tighten, has little idea of the hardship Joy endures--until both women realize they must subvert a corrupt system in order to survive. The best estimates put the death toll from China’s Great Leap Forward at 45 million, and See is unflinching in her portrayal of this horrific episode. In clean prose, she gives us a resounding story of human resilience, independent spirits, and the power of the love between mothers and daughters.

Review: When I finished Shanghai Girls a couple years ago, I was desperate for the story to continue. So you can imagine how excited I was when I heard Lisa See was doing a sequel and even more excited when I received an ARC of Dreams of Joy from Library Thing's Early Reviewers. I wanted to continue on the journey with Pearl, May and Joy.

Dreams of Joy doesn't disappoint and it picks up exactly where Shanghai Girls has left off. Joy, is a strong-willed, self-centered, self-righteous 19 year old; so when her life is torn apart by secrets her family has kept, she runs off to the People's Republic of China. In China, she hopes to discover her birth father and join the revolution of building the country. Like most 19 year olds, Joy is naive and idealistic so she has no real idea of what to expect when she arrives. She easily locates her father Z.G. and he takes her to the countryside where he is to teach art to the peasants. It is here that Joy feels her calling to make changes in her life. She falls for a local boy, Tao; whom she eventually marries. She is caught up in the romantic ideals of a a New China that she doesn't see what is going on around her until it's almost too late.

Pearl, of course, follows Joy to China. Except the road isn't so easily paved for her as it seems to be for Joy. She has to demonstrate her loyalty to Chairman Mao and the New China. She has to denounce her "western" ways. She becomes a street cleaner and hopes to be in Shanghai when Joy returns from the countryside.

There is much that happens in the 3 years this book takes place from a historical standpoint but also from a character development/growth perspective. I always amazed at the length of history in China! The U.S. is such a baby country compared to China.

I must say Joy grew on me throughout the book. I definitely did not like her during the first half of the book but she started to change and to open her eyes to the world around her and realize that maybe she'd made a big mistake. Becoming a mother and protecting her daughter is when I finally began to respect her. This is when her views of her mother and aunt begin to change and she begins to understand them.

Pearl also grows throughout the book. She came to China determined to get her daughter back and drag her to the US, what she found was a piece of herself that she had lost 20 years before. Pearl discovers much about herself during her return to her homeland. She learns to love and be loved in a way she never knew. She learns to let go of the past and move forward.

The only thing really missing for me in the book was May's presence. Obviously, I know it was a book about Pearl and Joy but if the ultimate message was that of mother love; then I think May wasn't present enough. I wanted to know more about how the revelation of the family secret changed May. Why didn't she go with Pearl to China? Will she look at Joy differently now that Joy knows the truth? These are things I wanted to know that didn't get answered.

That being said, I found this novel to be extremely moving and emotional. The journey these two women go on together and apart is tremendous. How they find their way back to each other and to themselves is extraordinary.

If you've read Shanghai Girls or if you haven't (you must), then you will definitely enjoy Dreams of Joy. You don't have to read Shanghai Girls to enjoy Dreams of Joy but it will definitely enhance your reading experience.

Ms. See is a tremendous writer who has such a love for her characters and for China. Her books are well researched and well written.

Final Take: 4.5/5



Eesti May 29, 2012 at 11:10 PM  

This novel is the sequel to Shanghai Girls, and while it would be beneficial to have read the first one, it is not necessary to do so. The book stands on its own. If you enjoy historical fiction this is a well-written tale set in China during the late 1950s and early 1960s during a specific period of Mao's communist leadership called "The Great Leap Forward." I found aspects of the book absolutely fascinating. Lisa See does a good job of alternating the voices of the mother (Pearl) and her daughter (Joy) as they bring to life the hardships that were endured. She does a fine balance of bringing to light the atrocities that occurred without making the book completely depressing. She shows how love and perseverance can triumph in the midst of difficulty.

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