Dreams of Joy, Lisa See, Random House Inc, 2011, 349 pp
Dreams of Joy is the sequel to Shanghai Girls, at the end of which Joy runs away from Los Angeles to find her real father in Shanghai. When I finished Shanghai Girls, I couldn't wait to read the sequel but as it turned out, it took one of my reading groups to put it in front of me two years after its publication.
Dreams of Joy takes place in China and follows Joy as she finds her way around Shanghai, eventually locates her father, and becomes a member of a communist village. Pearl, the mother who raised Joy, also arrives in Shanghai determined to find her daughter and keep her from harm.
It is a dramatic story set during the challenging times of the New Society in Red China. For Pearl, the changes in the city she fled twenty years earlier are heart breaking. Joy has all of her hopeful illusions about communism and her father shattered. By the end, the mother and daughter have retraced new versions of the horrors experienced by Pearl and her sister May in their first escape.
Pearl and May finally come to terms with their mutual love for Joy's father, the conflict that powered the earlier novel. The man in question, a self-centered and successful artist whose life and talent were ruined by the communist regime, grows up at last. (Not spoilers because the way in which all this occurs is what matters in the novel.)
Lisa See's depictions of China during Chairman Mao's Great Leap Forward are grisly. She has never shied away from the gritty realities of life in China, no matter the period of history. And if she resorts to melodrama, she does it well, in the tradition of the 19th century classics. I am glad I read Dreams of Joy. I wonder what she will do next.
(Dreams of Joy is available in paperback on the shelf at Once Upon A Time Bookstore. It is also available in other formats by order.)