Thursday, September 29, 2011

Dreams of Joy

Genre: Drama
Publisher: Random House
Publication Date: 2011

Lisa See is the New York Times bestselling author of Shanghai Girls, Peony in Love, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan (which has been adapted into a film), Flower Net (an Edgar Award nominee), The Interior, and Dragon Bones, as well as the acclaimed memoir On Gold Mountain. The Organization of Chinese American Women named her the 2001 National Woman of the Year.

In her most powerful novel yet, Lisa See returns to the timeless themes of mother love, romantic love, and love of country. She continues the story of sisters Pearl and May from Shanghai Girls, and Pearl's strong-willed nineteen-year-old daughter, Joy.  Dreams of Joy provides a glimpse of the cold, cruel damage to the humanity of people that was caused by war and the Communist regime in China in the late 1950s.  In this segment the return to Shanghai shows the Paris of Asia, may have been lost forever.

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.

Dreams of Joy is the sequel to Shanghai Girls which revisits sisters Pearl and May and the continued development of their relationship while telling the story of Joy, a Chinese-American at the time of the inception of Mao's "Great Leap Forward".  It is an epic historical drama with strong characterization and authenticity - the reader is taken on an emotional journey to China and into the lives of the Chin family.  Joy is an idealistic and naive college-student hell-bent on helping China's "Great Leap Forward".  However, what Joy finds is not the communist paradise she thought she wanted to be a part of;  Instead, what she finds is that her commune is more or less a refugee camp - her marriage and life in the countryside are so deeply disturbing and the "Great Leap Forward" is an actual  "Great Leap Into Famine".   Some may consider this to be a beautiful coming of age story, while others may view it as a story of a hardheaded teen defying her mother and trying to escape the guilt of her step-father's suicide, while at the same time trying to process the newly uncovered family secret of her parentage that has scattered her emotionally and placed a wedge of anger between her mother, aunt and herself.

The adventure, if one can call it that, begins after naïve Joy flees to China to seek out her biological father - the artist Z.G. Li, with whom both May and Pearl were once in love. Devastated by Joy's flight and terrified for her safety, Pearl is determined to save her daughter, no matter what the personal cost.  Against better judgment, Pearl leaves the comforts of L.A. on a quest to find Joy; once there she confronts old demons and challenges as she tries to reunite with Joy.  Added to the stress of trying to locate her daughter is the realization of the perils of the new China - including not being allowed basic freedoms of wearing a bra, sending and receiving mail, possession of her own passport, or even worst, not being allowed to leave China once there.

This story is permeated with the most vivid descriptions of sights, sounds and smells that transport the reader to a time and place where no one in their right mind would willingly want to go - yet, one will find themselves eagerly leaping forward through the story, to discover the moral fabric of China’s society as it unravels, with the abuse of its people, which sometimes resorted to cannibalism.  Readers will find themselves transfixed and perhaps emotionally invested, as old, new and restored relationships are woven within the dangers of this sage.  Not only fear for the safety of the main characters, but will root for their survival, but will Joy, Pearl and May survive the devastation of China’s new regime or will they perish along with millions of others?

Sometimes you come across a book that touches your heart, whether through a moving story-line, a narrative so beautifully heartbreaking it smothers you emotionally or a character or characters so absorbing you can’t quite put the book down – Lisa See’s Dreams of Joy is one such book.

This is a must read and highly recommended for anyone who wants to be vividly transported historically back in time - Lee allows readers to explore the details of the Maoist era (1958-1962) without restoring to dull dry statistical facts, as she unleashes a story about the worst catastrophe in China's history, and one of the worst anywhere; but at the same time provides a story about the love, loyalty, devotion and strength of a family.

Review copy provided by publisher.

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