Dreams of Joy by Lisa See
Published by Random House
Review copy provided by the publicist
After her father’s devastating suicide and her discovery of long-buried family secrets, nineteen-year-old Joy flees to China to meet her biological father, the artist Z.G. Li. Joy is overwhelmed with respect for this man she’s never met but who seems almost godlike to her, so she goes with him into a commune of the New Society of Red China, believing that the communist regime is doing the right thing for her parents’ home country. Her mother, Pearl, follows her into China, believing with every fiber of her being that Joy is making a mistake in settling down in such a totalitarian and communist country. Desperate to be reunited with her daughter, Pearl confronts the pain of her past and challenges that seem near impossible, making every attempt to get her daughter out of this terrifying country. While both Joy and Pearl fight to understand how their pasts have so deeply tinged their present, one of the most deadly events in Chinese history threatens both of their lives.
I absolutely loved See’s Shanghai Girls (the predecessor to this novel) so there was no question in my mind that I would read Dreams of Joy as soon as I could get my hands on a copy. I’m very happy to report that this book was just as good everything else I’ve read by Lisa See (I have to admit, I’ve come to expect excellence from her and she always delivers) and it was the perfect conclusion to Shanghai Girls.
Admittedly, Joy bothered me a lot at the beginning of this novel. True, she had just learned some pretty major things about her life which her parents had kept secret from her for almost twenty years, but she acted very rashly and without any forethought. She spent a huge portion of money on a ticket to an unknown and unfamiliar country – a country which had strict rules on who can come and go across its borders. And when she arrives in China, she’s told she must surrender her passport in order to be admitted in, and she does! She doesn’t think about the consequences of her actions, not in terms of how they affect her own life and definitely not in terms of how they will affect the people who love her. Part of me admired her plucky spirit and sense of adventure, but the biggest part of me got annoyed with how spoiled and selfish she was acting, putting herself in an extremely dangerous situation with no ability to get herself out of it. All that being said, she won me over by the end of the book. There was such humanity in her character – she was just so honest, so true to herself, and eventually she displayed a deep level of regret for what she’d done and eventually forgiveness for what her family had done to her.
I loved the sense of time and place that See displayed within this novel. Red China was a terrifying place, and Lisa See captured that terror so accurately. At the same time, there were people who felt this society was a paradise, and she captured their feelings of hope, comfort, and confidence in this new regime so well. I found myself feeling fearful as I read about some of the things the characters dealt with. Lisa See really evoked in me a sense of what it must have been like to live in China during that period of history.
Of course, what I most hoped from this novel was some kind of resolution to the tumultuous ending Shanghai Girls gave me. While I loved being along for the ride on this journey with Joy and Pearl, what I most hoped for was a happy conclusion to their story. Obviously I’m not going to get into any spoilers here but I will say that I was happy with the overall plot of the novel, including the ending. Things were very, very difficult for Joy and Pearl while in China and as I was reading it, I found it difficult to imagine how See could end on a positive note. As with all of her novels, she managed the perfect resolution to an excellently told story.
I have one word for Dreams of Joy and it is this: LOVE. I strongly suggest reading Shanghai Girls before reading this book, though, or you’ll find yourself very confused. But please read both books, they are excellent and Lisa See is fabulous as ever.