In this sequel to Shanghai Girls, Joy, the girl who was born to one sister but raised as the daughter of the other, flees from both mothers when she learns of the bizarre relationship at age nineteen. Since she was born in the United States to Chinese parents, she is an American citizen, but her adoptive mother Pearl raised her to understand and embrace Chinese culture and customs. Joy's rapture with all things Chinese extends to Mau's teachings, and when she feels betrayed by the mother and aunt who raised her, she runs away to the Peoples Republic of China in search of her biological father. The sisters, Pearl and May, had been "Beautiful Girls" in pre-communism Shanghai, models portrayed in advertisements, posters, and magazines. Since Joy's father, Z. G. Li, the artist who painted them, is still famous, Joy has little difficulty locating him once she arrives in China, but she finds that he has fallen out of favor with the communist government. When he is exiled to a poverty-stricken rural commune, Joy blissfully accompanies him, thrilled that she will have the opportunity to help rebuild her new homeland. Her boundless idealism hides the bleak reality of life in China from her even after Pearl arrives and tries to convince her to escape back to the United States. Returning to Shanghai but refusing to leave her daughter alone in China, Pearl subjects herself to communist rule, forging a meager existence in the family home where she was once pampered and spoiled. When Mao's "Great Leap Forward" brings famine and death to Joy's commune, she endures almost unimaginable horrors as she struggles to survive and to regain her family.
Lisa See's haunting tale is both beautiful and horrific. Its beauty lies in the exquisite descriptions of Chinese art, culture, traditions and history and in its depiction of the power of love between mothers and daughters and between sisters. The horror lies in the inhumane conditions that are so convincingly described and in the realization that situations like these actually happened, killing millions of people. Told in alternating first-person accounts by Joy and Pearl, the listener can't help but feel transported to China in the late 1950's. Janet Song, the accomplished narrator, effectively presents both Pearl's realistic assessment and Joy's idealistic one.
Not only is this an extremely entertaining audio book, it is full of carefully researched information about Chinese history, art and culture. It touches on America's response to Mao, but contains extensive treatment of how his teachings affected the people of China. See also includes generous coverage of folklore, Chinese herbal medicine, sayings, proverbs and astrological symbolism. The overall effect of this book is enchantment. Listening to See's beautiful prose is like being wrapped in a silken cocoon, experiencing metamorphosis and emerging as an enlightened and empowered butterfly. Most highly recommended.
Dreams of Joy by Lisa See
Read by Janet Song
Random House Audio, unabridged: 15.5 hours on 13 CDs