Dreams of Joy by Lisa See
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Dreams of Joy is the conclusion of the story started with sisters May and Pearl in Shanghai Girls. I do suggest you start with Shanghai Girls. I will say though, Dreams of Joy was the better of the two. So even if you feel Shanghai Girls was only a moderate book, do persevere because by the end of Dreams of Joy, you will be VERY glad that you did.
We join American born and raised Joy, who in a fit of despair after the suicide the man she thought to be her father and the discovery that who she thought was her mother, was really her aunt, seeks what she believe to be her utopia behind the Bamboo Curtain in Chairman Mao Zedong's Communist China. Her Aunt/Mother Pearl (who raised Joy as her own after she and her sister narrowly escaped from China to the U.S.) follows Joy back to China in a desperate attempt to get her safely home.
Dreams of Joy has many delicate layers which intertwine in ways you don't notice until you finish and have time to reflect. Lisa See does a wonderful job of showing life behind the Bamboo curtain in the time of Mao in contrast to how life was just 20 years earlier before May and Pearl escaped. Nothing is as it seems and all is covered by a false pretense of what it should be rather than what it is. Such is the relationship between sisters Pearl and May. On the surface, the closest of sisters who've never been apart, yet a turbulent relationship tainted by jealousies and lies but cemented by love. And of course Joy finds her "utopia" of rural China during Mao's Great Leap Forward to be anything but utopia. Instead she learns about loss, famine, death and horror.
The story moves well. I was compelled to do more research on China and Mao's reign after the taste that Lisa See used as her backdrop. In a true testament to how much I loved this book, when I finished it, I could not go right to another book. I wasn't ready to let go of the characters quite yet and needed a few days to let them go.
One final suggestion, if you've not read anything by Lisa See. Start with Snow Flower and the Secret Fan. Why? Because it is set in China about 75 years prior to the start of Shanghai Girls. And by starting there, you can really understand 1) foot binding and 2) the true extent of changes and turmoil experienced in China during a relatively short period of time.
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