Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Dreams of Joy (Shanghai Girls #2) by Lisa See

Dreams of Joy  

Dreams of Joy by Lisa See is the sequel to Shanghai Girls, which I wrote about a while ago. It starts from where Shanghai Girls left off so those who have not and intend to read Shanghai Girls should probably not read this post for the whole thing is one big spoiler.

Goodreads Summary

Reeling from newly uncovered family secrets, and anger at her mother and aunt for keeping them from her, Joy runs away to Shanghai in early 1957 to find her birth father—the artist Z.G. Li, with whom both May and Pearl were once in love. Dazzled by him, and blinded by idealism and defiance, Joy throws herself into the New Society of Red China, heedless of the dangers in the communist regime. 

Devastated by Joy’s flight and terrified for her safety, Pearl is determined to save her daughter, no matter the personal cost. From the crowded city to remote villages, Pearl confronts old demons and almost insurmountable challenges as she follows Joy, hoping for reconciliation. Yet even as Joy’s and Pearl’s separate journeys converge, one of the most tragic episodes in China’s history threatens their very lives.

My Review

Unlike Shanghai Girls, which is told solely through the eyes of Pearl, Dreams of Joy alternates between the points-of-view of Joy and Pearl. This is a very good contrast as Pearl is older, structured, realistic, and has life knowledge while Joy is young, idealistic, and incredibly naive. As with her "auntie" May, Joy makes spontaneous, possibly disastrous decisions, and Pearl is left to pick up the pieces and set things right.  

In Shanghai Girls, we get a glimpse of the glamorous pre-war China, a high point in China's history. In Dreams of Joy, See shows us China during Mao's Red China and the communist regime. This is possibly the lowest era in China's history as it includes extreme poverty and famine. When Pearl enters this new China, she is shocked at how much things have changed from the Shanghai she grew up in. It isn't as colorful and lively as it once was; there aren't any parties, very few people roam the streets, and everyone lives in fear of being arrested by Mao's government. Joy, on the other-hand, goes to a countryside village with Z.G. and is inspired by the way villagers all work for the greater good of the country. She joins the village and the cause, which worries both Pearl and Z.G.  

See also brings in a bit of the sibling rivalry from Shanghai Girls as Pearl and May send letters to each other. Pearl, being a mourning widow, blames May for her husband, Sam's, suicide. Pearl is also jealous that Z.G., who she's always been in love with, chose May. Protecting May as usual, however, Pearl purposely omits details about Z.G. in her letters. May is upset that with Sam dead and both Joy and Pearl in China, she is left to care for her husband Vern, who has tuberculosis of the bones, a mental disability, and is unable to care for himself. As with most things in May's life, Pearl and Sam have always taken care of Vern while May goes to Hollywood sets or whatever else May wants. For the first time in her life, May is forced to put herself second and act responsibly. In true Pearl and May form, however, neither truly confronts the other directly about their true feelings.

There is one quote from Pearl that very much explains the mother-daughter theme throughout the book. 

...Sometimes it's just so damn hard to be a mother. We have to wait and wait and wait for our children to open their hearts to us. And if that doesn't work, we have to bide our time and look for the moment of weakness when we can sneak back into their lives and they will see us and remember us for the people who love them unconditionally.

Once Pearl finds Joy, all she is left to do is bide her time. Joy is stubborn and truly believes in what she's doing and in Mao's cause, and she has no desire to return to America with her mother. As much as Z.G. and Pearl try to make her see things for what they are, she refuses to listen. Joy is convinced that Pearl does not know her and does not know what is best for her. As a matter of fact, Joy's desire to become a village peasant is deeper than just her belief in the People's Republic of China. 

"I want to be a part of creating something bigger than my own problems. I want to make up for all I destroyed--Dad's life, our family. It's my way of atoning."

Although Pearl understands that her daughter is grieving and is blaming herself for Sam's death, she truly believes that this is not the answer. "This," she says, "is too much punishment for anyone."  She's not just talking about punishment for Joy, but punishment for herself and May for their deception throughout Joy's life. 

Time does prove Pearl's words to be true. When Mao first starts his "Great Leap Forward", it sounds great with promises that "China will be a land of abundance and wealth" with agricultural goods and steel and that it will no longer be look down on by other countries. However, when Mao's methods to increase crops prove fatal to the land, the result is the exact opposite of what he had promised. This is the portion of the book that many times is difficult to read. Food becomes increasingly scarce, people begin to starve and die, and citizens who were once out for the greater good of the country begin to only look out for themselves. It is no longer about building the country, but about survival. 

Shanghai is faring better than the countryside, however Mao tries to keeps up illusion of a prosperous village community to the cities of China (and at the same time that of a prosperous China to the rest of the world) with staged ads in order to prevent an uprising. However, Pearl knows something is wrong and knows that it is time to step in and save her daughter. The question is can she do so in time. 

This book is a great continuation to Shanghai Girls. It is a mixture of sadness, hardship, and love. It also has a lot of twists and turns and eye opening moments. I recommend this to anyone who has read Shanghai Girls and is curious to how the story of Pearl, May, and Joy continues. 

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