LA Times Reviews Lisa See’s Dreams of Joy

Book Review: ‘Dreams of Joy’ by Lisa See

By Susan Salter Reynolds

‘Dreams of Joy’ by Lisa See continues the story from her previous novel, ‘Shanghai Girls’: A Chinese American girl seeks her father and spends three years in the People’s Republic during the Great Leap Forward starting in the 1950s.

With each new novel, Lisa See gets better and better. Each work is more tightly woven, richer with information, its characters more memorable than the last.

In her previous novel, “Shanghai Girls” (2009), See gave us an unforgettable portrait of Shanghai, of its cosmopolitan ways and elegant atmosphere that made it a cultural center of Asia, and of two sisters thriving in that world of beauty and delicacy — until history intrudes and forces them to leave it all behind for an uncertain future far away in Los Angeles.

And so it is with “Dreams of Joy,” which picks up where “Shanghai Girls” left off, giving us the story of a young Chinese American woman’s search for her father and her three-year odyssey in the People’s Republic during Mao Tse-tung’s Great Leap Forward. The scope of the novel is astonishing — including the ingenious ways Chinese women handled their menstrual periods and the carefully concealed and shocking stories of starvation in the communes, the suffocating collectives into which the country was divided. (This starvation was due, in part, to central government edicts to focus on industrial production rather than agriculture.) See aims her pen at the most vivid aspects of daily life but never loses sight of the sweep of history.

Joy, 19 in 1957 and growing up in L.A.’s Chinatown, has just made several powerful discoveries: that her aunt (one of the sisters) is her real mother; and her father, who has committed suicide just two weeks previous, was illegally in the U.S. He was not even her real father, she learns, and his suicide was partially her fault because by participating in civil rights organizations in college, she has called attention (these are the feverish McCarthy years) to her family and his citizenship status.

Read full article @ Los Angeles Times

~ by eneryvibes on 1,May 27, 2011.

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