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Dreams of Joy: A Novel Paperback – February 7, 2012
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Amazon Best Books of the Month, June 2011: 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. --Mari Malcolm --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. See revisits Shanghai Girls sisters Pearl and May in this surefire story of life in Communist China. Joy, the daughter Pearl has raised as her own in L.A., learns the truth about her parentage and flees to China to seek out her father and throw herself into the Communist cause, giving See ample opportunity to explore the People's Republic from an unlikely perspective as Joy reconnects with her artist father, Z.G. Li, and the two leave sophisticated Shanghai to go to the countryside, where Z.G., whose ironic view of politics is lost on naïve Joy, has been sent to teach art to the peasants. Joy, full of political vigor, is slow to pick up on the harsh realities of communal life in late 1950s China, but the truth sinks in as Mao's drive to turn China into a major agriculture and manufacturing power backfires. Pearl, meanwhile, leaves L.A. on a perhaps perilous quest to find Joy. As always, See creates an immersive atmosphere—her rural China is far from postcard pretty—but Joy's education is a stellar example of finding new life in a familiar setup, and See's many readers will be pleased to see the continued development of Pearl and May's relationship. Looks like another hit. (May) --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top Customer Reviews
Having read three of her books now, I can say that Lisa See is not one of the most talented writers in the world. Her plot lines are predictable and underdeveloped; the characters are flat and repetitive (always a selfish, carefree female
character and always an implausibly self-sacrificing female character); the endings are maudlin and heavy handed. Sometimes, however, an easy read is what one wants. So, three stars for a dull rainy day read.
See researched both books extensively, but I could not warm up to the character of Joy. Pearl follows her to China, and it is the story of Pearl, who sacrifices everything to return to her homeland to chase after Joy. Her love and devotion moved me because her actions are unselfish and motivated by love. Joy reacts to life's events without thought of anything but herself. As a result, she ends up in a loveless marriage of her own choosing. In the end, the love of Pearl rescues her.
I grew tired of reading the endless scenes of poverty and starvation and cruelty and deprivation. I feel selfish even writing that sentence because these conditions did and do exist for those living under dictatorships couched under euphemisms of social reform and power to the people. Perhaps that was See's intent with this book - to make the reading of it as intolerable as the conditions she repeatedly shows.
Even though I didn't enjoy Dreams of Joy as much as her other novels, I give praise to See for writing such detailed accounts of historical events that must be remembered lest we forget, and worse, repeat. Novels that entertain and inform stand a chance of making a difference, and I don't fault her for doing that in both of these books.
I just wanted to be swept away by both, and that didn't happen with the sequel.
Its a wake up call for younger people who need to know what Socialism and Communism can do to a population. The devastation, starvation, and cruelty is there in history, but not taught the way it needs to be nowadays. Students do not understand the consequences if the information is hidden and omitted from textbooks and the classroom.
The amount of Chinese people who starved to death alone is a number that will shock anybody who looks this up.
Dreams of Joy focuses on a triangle between a young woman named Joy; her mother, Pearl, and her aunt, May, with Joy and Pearl narrating in first-person voices. Pearl and May are characters well-drawn in Shanghai Girls, a previous See novel which covers 1937 to 1957 and moves from the girls' glittery life in Shanghai to a lesser existence in the Chinatown of Los Angeles, where they escape after the Japanese invade their country.
For readers of Shanghai Girls, Dreams of Joy offers closure. But if this is the first of See's books you're picking up, I doubt that you will captivated. While Pearl is a complex woman, Joy is vapid, and where See's past novels depict a China of grace alongside scenes of brutality, Communist China is rendered with all the dreariness it deserves. As a result, while Dreams of Joy may be historically accurate, it is relentlessly bleak. In addition, the plot is far-fetched. For reasons that are not convincing, Joy, a University of Chicago student, impulsively visits China to meet her biological father, an artist respected even in the new regime. From here on, a reader must suspend disbelief as events unfold built on coincidences described in prose that never reaches lift-off.
Even with its flaws, however, Dreams of Love is a powerful story about the bonds of country and motherhood. Readers will especially enjoy flashbacks to Shanghai's glory days, where "banquets came with French friends sprinkled with fine white sugar." The occasional Chinese proverb is also a treat: "An inch of gold won't buy an inch of time." Time being precious, however, I can recommend this book only if you are a reader of See's previous work.