Thursday, June 23, 2011

Dreams of Joy

Dreams of Joy
Lisa See
Random House
May 31, 2011
ISBN: 978-1-4000-6712-3
358 pages

How would anyone feel if the woman who you always called mother is really your aunt and your aunt is really your mother? Added to that, the man who you have considered to be your father is not your father. Your real father lives in China and is a well-known artist.

Joy is in this situation. She has lived her entire life in Los Angeles where her family settled after fleeing China when the Japanese invasion occurred. Her family revolves around two women. May was Joy’s real mother but discovered her artistic gift in working in the movie industry while Pearl, her real aunt, established a small cafĂ© in Chinatown. Being the Pearl was more available to stay close to raise a baby, this arrangement worked better for the sisters.

With one year of college completed, Joy has just enough knowledge to be dangerous and believes strongly in the idealism of communism. While at college her true feelings become known and cause a domino effect with the F.B.I. and the man who she believed was her father committing suicide.

Between the guilt, idealism, and the intrigue of an adventure, Joy takes her college money for next year and runs to China to find her real father while she plans to become a part of the new life in China under Chairman Mao. Once she finds her father, both go to a commune where Z.G. teaches practical art to the masses and Joy discovers love for a man and for her new country.

The story alternates as a narrative from the point-of-view of Pearl and Joy. Pearl leaves Los Angeles with a goal of bringing Joy home and getting her out of China. She discovers China has greatly changed from when she left twenty years ago and struggles to find Z.G. and Joy. Joy matures into the realism of hard work in a commune with illiterate villagers, an indifferent husband, and a corrupt system during times of drought.

Dreams of Joy is a realistic view into the Mao years of the late 1950s and the early 1960s. This novel was well-researched as to the time and place and was filled with cultural oddities true to the story.

Part of me has a problem with reading a sequel. I feel cheated in that the story was not completed in the previous book. To understand Dreams of Joy and the characters, you really have to read the previous novel, Shanghai Girls. To me, it would make more sense to just publish the two books together or to make one long novel and not to leave the reader hanging in suspense.

Lisa See who lives in Los Angeles has written many novels reflecting on China, her ancestral home. These novels are Peony in Love, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, Flower Net, The Interior, On Gold Mountain, and Dragon Bones. Her writing never fails to tell a wonderful story as I can attest to since I have read everything she has written and plan to continue to read anything she writes.

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