Thursday, June 2, 2011

Dreams of Joy by Lisa See

Dreams of Joy promises to be one of the big books of the summer. Its fast pace will complement a day on the beach and its historical information will sate those wanting more.

This sequel to Shanghai Girls stands alone and surpasses the first installment.  See's breakout book Snow Flower and the Secret Fan has long been a favorite of book clubs and historical fiction enthusiasts and Dreams of Joy should please them both.  See’s latest novel enables readers to connect to those in the countryside during China's Great Leap Forward from 1958 to 1962.  An estimated 45 million people died in China during the famine of those years yet most of us know very little about that famine.  Dreams of Joy allows us to see it through the eyes of Joy, a headstrong University of Chicago student, who believes that China will offer a utopian life and an escape from family problems.

Joy’s mother, Pearl, who grew up in Shanghai and was sold into marriage in Los Angeles in the 1930s, rushes to China to convince Joy to come home. See fashions the theme of maternal love throughout the novel in a manner that will have book club members clamoring to share their thoughts.  Joy’s reconnection with her biological father, a famous artist, allows See to paint the countryside in colors that illustrate the profound changes wrought by the Mao regime.  As Joy assists her father in teaching art to the peasants, the reader is able to “see” the land and the people in a new way.  This device works to make the people and the land visible and it balances the emotional shading See uses to make her characters real.

Summing it Up: Read this to learn of a famine that didn’t need to occur and enjoy it for the depth of the character development.  It will satisfy both book club members that love history and those wanting a page-turning story.

Rating: 5 stars   

Category: Fiction, Grandma’s Pot Roast, Book Club  

Publication date: May 31, 2011

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