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China Dolls: A Novel Hardcover – June 3, 2014

3.9 out of 5 stars 1,389 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

The lives of three young Chinese-American women—Grace, Helen, and Ruby—intersect in valuable and often violent ways in pre-WWII San Francisco as they shed their drab former lives to become glamorous entertainers at the city’s rising hot spot, the Forbidden City nightclub. Despite their divergent backgrounds, a mutual desire to shatter the cultural stereotypes that doom them to lives of familial subservience feeds their ambition to prosper in a world in which the definition of success changes minute by minute. Though they’ve taken a “one for all” vow of eternal loyalty, each harbors secrets that cause a pervasive atmosphere of distrust to simmer just below the surface. When Ruby is revealed to actually be of Japanese heritage and deported to an internment camp, their friendships and fortunes suffer a mortal blow, one that only deepens as the war rages on. In her impeccably researched and distinctive historical saga of desire and ambition, betrayal and revenge set amid the glitz and debauchery of burlesque entertainment on the “chop suey circuit,” See (Dreams of Joy, 2011) again lavishly explores the thorny intricacies of female friendships. HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: The alluring setting of always-popular Lisa See’s latest work of women-oriented historical fiction will be vigorously promoted in print, radio, and online as the author embarks on a 10-city tour. --Carol Haggas


“Superb . . . This emotional, informative and brilliant page-turner resonates with resilience and humanity.”The Washington Post
“This is one of those stories I’ve always wanted to tell, but Lisa See beat me to it, and she did it better than I ever could. Bravo! Here’s a roaring standing ovation for this heartwarming journey into the glittering golden age of Chinese nightclubs.”—Jamie Ford, author of Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet
“A fascinating portrait of life as a Chinese-American woman in the 1930s and ’40s.”—The New York Times Book Review
“A sweeping, turbulent tale of passion, friendship, good fortune, bad fortune, perfidy and the hope of reconciliation.”—Los Angeles Times
“Lisa See masterfully creates unforgettable characters that linger in your memory long after you close the pages.”—Bookreporter
“Stellar . . . The depth of See’s characters and her winning prose makes this book a wonderful journey through love and loss.”Publishers Weekly (starred review)
China Dolls plunges us into a fascinating history and offers an accessible meditation on themes that are still urgent in our contemporary world. The women’s story explores burning questions about the possibilities of friendship, the profound effects of betrayal, the horrors of prejudice and the nature of ambition—especially female ambition. . . . These Asian artists were true pioneers, breaking ground, chasing vast dreams, subverting stereotypes simply by appearing onstage against the odds. Here, in China Dolls, they have found another stage of sorts, another place to rightfully shine.”San Francisco Chronicle
China Dolls is [Lisa See’s] most penetrating since Snow Flower and the Secret Fan.”The Seattle Times
“A spellbinding portrait of a time burning with opportunity and mystery.”O: The Oprah Magazine
“[An] impeccably researched and distinctive historical saga of desire and ambition, betrayal and revenge . . . See again lavishly explores the thorny intricacies of female friendships.”Booklist
“Fresh and lively . . . powerful passages . . . a compelling story.”—Los Angeles Review of Books
China Dolls mines a fascinating part of our cultural history through the story of a trio of women who become a complex constant in one another’s lives even as the world serves up painful transformation. Lisa See gets so much just right here. You’ll want to dive right in.”—Paula McLain, author of The Paris Wife
“Colorful and fascinating historical touches tie the story together perfectly and form an exquisite backdrop.”Library Journal

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Random House; First Edition edition (June 3, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 081299289X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0812992892
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.4 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1,389 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #234,461 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I was very excited to read China Dolls for two reasons; I have read and really enjoyed Lisa See's other books, and I was intrigued by the quote, attributed to Buddha, before the title page..."Only three things cannot be long hidden: the sun, the moon, and the truth." I THOUGHT this meant I was about to embark on a novel of discovery of long buried and fascinating secrets. I wasn't. I found this book to be so far below the standards of other books by this author, I often wondered if she had REALLY written it; the style of writing and quality of language usage were a disappointment. Although the story itself...three young Asian women living in San Francisco before, during and after WW2 while trying to become nightclub stars... had promise, so much of it was just too incredible. For example, the three women meet and, within 5 minutes, become best friends; Helen, who has led a very sheltered life in her family's compound, has never danced in public, let alone taken a dance lesson...and yet, after her new friends show her a few steps on the sidewalk, she passes the audition and gets a job in the night club show. I also found the characters to be too simplistic, shallow and under-drawn...at times, the three women seemed more like three 7-year-olds "playing grown-up." There is such a disconnect between these women and the characters of Snow Flower and the Secret Fan or Peony in Love. The same goes for the general style of narrative; there is one paragraph in particular where Helen is describing their Christmas celebration which was so simplistic as to be almost juvenile; "I gave Grace rouge; she gave me a hat. I gave Eddie a necktie; Grace gave him a scarf. Eddie gave me a one pound box of candy.Read more ›
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Long curious to read one of Lisa See’s many novels, I chose China Dolls immediately when it became available as an advanced copy. As I read on and on into the book, however, I kept wondering what the fuss was all about. While it was an easy read, it was also a lightweight, soap opera of a story. The story is told in revolving narratives by the three main characters; a trio of broadly painted clichés; the naïve small town girl, the tough, wise-cracking girl, and the traditional, conservative girl. They never emerge as more than two dimensional; their actions and choices telegraphed, and the interaction between them juvenile. How odd that over the course of three hundred plus pages, the author never manages to breathe life and realism into her creations.

The story largely takes place in the Chinatown dance club circuit amidst the growing storm in Asia that eventually comes to our shores at Pearl Harbor. It follows the show biz lives of three dancers Helen, Grace, and Ruby. As a historical novel, the names and events drive some of the plot, but are in essence little more than backdrops for the melodrama. While the book addresses complex issues such as race, xenophobia, child abuse, the horrors of war, and sexual orientation, they are never really explored on a deep level. I was disappointed that the author gives these complex issues a superficiality that renders them mere accoutrements to vainly flush out the thin characters.

In the absence of long-winded expository passages, China Dolls reads quick enough and there was enough of a plot, even if generic, to keep me going up to the predictable ending. Just the same, when the end did come, I was glad to be done. Not a ringing endorsement for a book. Due to her enormous popularity, I find it hard to fathom that this novel is typical of the author, but there are too many other books to read to waste time verifying.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Lisa See has long been an author I really enjoy. "Snowflower and the Secret Fan" and "Peony in Love" were my top two favorites, but now I have a third; "China Dolls." So entertaining, informative(did you know that Ed Sullivan was a gossip columnist before he ever had this show?")as well as humorous and heart wrenching.

Helen, a Chinese born girl, has moved with her family to San Francisco's "Chinatown", living in a giant compound with her parents and 7 brothers along with their wives and children. Ruby comes from Japan to Chinatown passing for Chinese in a time that most of the United States and China hate Japanese. Grace, deeply scarred emotionally and physically by a violent father, escapes from Plain City, Ohio to find her dreams as a dancer in Chinatown. All meet by coincidences and become fast friends. All want to be entertainers and the story of their attempts line this well written novel with intrigue. The trio hold secrets within them that lead to some disastrous consequences and strain within their close knit bonds.

The writing flows with conversations that make the reader feel as if they are right inside the pages following the trio as they tour the country with their singing, dancing and fan production.(Sally Rand style) The facts that are revealed educated me to the prejudices of the times.(1930's thru 1940's) and how hard it was to be of any nationality besides "white."

Great effort and well worth the read!!
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