Having loved Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, I had to grab Dreams of Joy as soon as I saw it.
Joy is the 19-year-old daughter of Chinese Immigrants in America. Her world has just been turned upside down. She has just learnt that the her mother was actually her aunt, and the person she calls her aunt was actually her birth mother. Her father, or the person she knew as her father has just passed away. The people who she trusted the most, seemed to have harbored secrets from her, all her life. The world as she knew it has just ended.
Confused and driven by her idea of China, Joy grabs some money her mother has set aside and runs away to China. Enamoured by the idea of New China, completely taken in by everything she read, she wants to head to China and be part of the building of New China. Undeterred by everybody who warns her that the reality is far from what she has heard, she is convinced that Chairman Mao is the saviour that China is waiting for. She also has a personal motive, she wants to find her birth father, the famous artist Z. G. Li.
So off she goes, full of optimism and excitement, convinced that she is going to be part of something historic. For her, Socialism seemed to be the answer to all evils. Reaching China, she realizes how different things are from the life she left behind, but far from pining away for the luxuries and life that she left behind, she throws herself into her new life. She sees only the positives. Every hardship , is taken as a blessing.
Back in America, when her mother Pearl realizes that her daughter has reached China, there was only one thing for her to do. Follow Joy to China. She knew she had to go there and ensure that her daughter is safe, and bring her back, if she can. Pearl and Joy’s separate journeys meet in China. Pearl goes through trails of her own, face demons from her past, make peace with conflicting emotions within her, try to learn the new language that she needs to speak, for Joy to hear her. She realizes that she needs to build bridges and trust with her daughter, all over again. Pearl comes to realize that all she can do is support her daughter, no matter how much it hurts her to see the decisions her daughter takes, and wait and hope that Joy understands why her mother is so worried about her.
Both Joy and Pearl live through tragic and difficult circumstances in China. China during the ‘Great Leap Forward’ is portrayed and it is heart breaking to read some of the stuff. The schemes that were launched, the cruelty that people endured, and the class difference that still existed in the society despite what socialism promised them. There are times when I wished Joy wouldn’t be so blind to what was really going on. But for a young person, full of a purpose, the excitement, the joy of being part of something so big, it might be easy to not see the whole picture. I wish I could say more without giving away the whole story, but I can’t. So I will just say, read it. It is a book worth reading.
As I read it, I realized that it was the second part of a series, but it was quite easy to connect the dots and get the story. Lisa See has obviously done a lot of research to write this book. She brings Shanghai and the countryside where Joy lived to life. We live the life that they lived while we read the book. All the characters are beautifully defined, and very believable. The ending ties up very well with the rest of the book. I am definitely going to find ‘Shanghai Girls’, the prequel to this book, even though I know what happened in the end, it would be an interesting read, I think. Again a historical fiction, which brought to life, an era, in a country that I knew little about.
I would give it a 4/5.
About the Author
Lisa See is a Chinese-American author. Her books include Snow Flower and the Secret Fan (2005), Dragon Bones, and On Gold Mountain. She was named the 2001 National Woman of the Year, by the Organization of Chinese American Women. She lives in Los Angeles.