Thursday, August 21, 2014

Review: China Dolls by Lisa See

Here is a summary of the book from the publisher's website:

It’s 1938 in San Francisco: a world’s fair is preparing to open on Treasure Island, a war is brewing overseas, and the city is alive with possibilities. Grace, Helen, and Ruby, three young women from very different backgrounds, meet by chance at the exclusive and glamorous Forbidden City nightclub. Grace Lee, an American-born Chinese girl, has fled the Midwest with nothing but heartache, talent, and a pair of dancing shoes. Helen Fong lives with her extended family in Chinatown, where her traditional parents insist that she guard her reputation like a piece of jade. The stunning Ruby Tom challenges the boundaries of convention at every turn with her defiant attitude and no-holds-barred ambition.

The girls become fast friends, relying on one another through unexpected challenges and shifting fortunes. When their dark secrets are exposed and the invisible thread of fate binds them even tighter, they find the strength and resilience to reach for their dreams. But after the Japanese attack Pearl Harbor, paranoia and suspicion threaten to destroy their lives, and a shocking act of betrayal changes everything.

My Review:
What a wonderful story Lisa See delivers to us once again.  We follow the lives of these three women who are introduced to us at a young age in San Francisco, as we share in their friendships and heartaches.  The story is told from the perspectives of each of our main characters, Grace, Helen, and Ruby, so we get a glimpse into the reasons for their actions.

Grace is a young and innocent chinese girl that has fled to San Francisco in search of a better life.  Grace is probably the most talented of our characters, but she will not experience success until later in the novel.  Grace is an honorable friend who would do anything for those that she loves, so when her friendships with Helen and Ruby become stressed, her whole world is cast into turmoil.

Helen comes from a noble and wealthy Chinese family and lives with her entire family in a compound in the middle of Chinatown.  Her family's status has given Helen a life of privilege, allowing her to not really want for anything.  There is more to Helen that meets the eye as she fled from Shanghai with her family during the war, so she struggles to start her life over again.

Our third main character is Ruby, whose actions are wild and unpredictable.  Ruby uses her body and beauty to help her advance quickly among the Chinese nightclubs.  Ruby has her own dark secret, that once uncovered, will knock her status rank out from under her.

The main characters are brought together from odd circumstances, and even though they have different roles in various nightclubs, their friendship remains strong.  After the bombing of Pearl Harbor the boundaries of their friendship becomes tested, sending the girls lives in separate directions.  Lies and secrets keep them apart for years afterward leaving them yearning for the lost relationships.

Lisa See does a great job, as she always does, of setting up the time period for us.  I learned several things from this novel about how oriental people were treated during this time, even before the bombing of Pearl Harbor.  With themes of love, friendship, secrets, and forgiveness, I think you would enjoy this book as much as I did.  It would be a great novel to read for personal leisure or as a book club discussion.

My Rating:  4/5

Disclosure:  This book was provided to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

1 comment:

bermudaonion said...

I struggled with this one but everyone else is loving it so I know it's just me. I had trouble telling the characters apart for the first half of the book.