In her beloved New York Times bestsellers Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, Peony in Love, and, most recently, Shanghai Girls, Lisa See has brilliantly illuminated the potent bonds of mother love, romantic love, and love of country. Now, in DREAMS OF JOY, she returns to these timeless themes, continuing the story of sisters Pearl and May from Shanghai Girls, and Pearl’s strong-willed nineteen-year-old daughter, Joy.
Reeling from newly uncovered family secrets, and anger at her mother and aunt for keeping them from her, Joy runs away to Shanghai in early 1957 to find her birth father—the artist Z.G. Li, with whom both May and Pearl were once in love. Dazzled by him, and blinded by idealism and defiance, Joy throws herself into the New Society of Red China, heedless of the dangers in the communist regime and the Great Leap Forward.
Devastated by Joy’s flight and terrified for her safety, Pearl is determined to save her daughter, no matter the personal cost. From the crowded city to remote villages, Pearl confronts old demons and almost insurmountable challenges as she follows Joy, hoping for reconciliation. Yet even as Joy’s and Pearl’s separate journeys converge, one of the most tragic episodes in China’s history threatens their very lives.
Acclaimed for her richly drawn characters and vivid storytelling, Lisa See once again renders a family challenged by tragedy and time, yet ultimately united by the resilience of love.
Lisa See continues to amaze me in her novels that are always so rich and honest within the culture and time that she writes about. Although Dreams of Joy is a sequel to Shanghai Girls, I do not think that you need to read Shanghai Girls to understand and comprehend this beautiful novel. If you missed my review of Shanghai Girls you can still view it here.
Dreams of Joy opens after family secrets are finally revealed to Joy at the end of Shanghai Girls. Joy feels that the life she has been living is a lie so she sets out to China to find her true self. Chairman Mao has just taken over China and is implementing new laws and regulations that will make the country a better place for all to live. Joy believes in Chairman Mao's politics and is very excited to be able to help with the rebuilding of China.
When Joy gets to China, it doesn't take her long to find Z.G., the artist who long ago painted her mother and aunt for the widely known Beautiful Girls posters. Z.G. is really unsure as to what Joy expects from him so he decides to take him with her to the countryside where he is to embark on a political campaign to teach artwork to peasants.
While Joy is fullfilling her dream by helping to rebuild China in the countryside, she finds herself falling in love with a young artist who is a resident of the village where she and Z.G. are staying. As her relationship with Tao grows, Joy has no idea how this young love will affect her future. Her life changes in a way that she could never imagine.
Lisa See gives us a vivid picture of what it was like for all involved during the birth of communism in China. It is sad to think of all of the resources that were wasted during this time when they would perform their Sputniks as a way to prove that they could produce mass quantities of work in short periods of time. The quality and final outcome were never considered during these projects, only the amount of work completed. Many crops were left to spoil from the Sputniks, which only helped to increase the famine that would spread throughout the country. This was a devastating part of the novel for me as I really had limited knowledge of this time period in China.
Pearl has more of an appearance in this novel than May does, as Pearl follows Joy to China to hopefully bring her back home to the United States. When Pearl discovers a new China that is not very friendly to her she finds her way back to her family home in Shanghai where she is welcomed with open arms. Although many items in the home are now gone, her bedroom was just as she left it. It is during this time in Shanghai that Pearl comes to terms with the decisions that she has made in her life. By letting go of past hurts, Pearl is able to open herself up to a future filled with happiness.
I think you can tell that I absolutely loved this novel that includes themes of communism, love, forgiveness, and sisterly bonds. I highly recommend this novel as either a book club selection or for personal leisure.
My Rating: 5/5
Disclosure: This book was provided to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.