Shanghai Girls and Dreams of Joy by Lisa See

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Why did I wait so long to read these books? I've had Shanghai Girls on my Kindle for over a year from when it was on sale for only $2.99, but for some reason I worked my way through Lisa See's other books before deciding a few weeks ago, with the Chinese New Year and moving to Los Angeles, that it would fit right in to the setting. In addition, I have family that grew up in Chinatown and still live there, so learning more about the history of it was especially interesting to me. At any rate, both Shanghai Girls and Dreams of Joy were phenomenal reads and completely surpassed my expectations.

Shanghai Girls is about Pearl and May, sisters who are living the high life in Shanghai, the Paris of Asia. Working as "beautiful girls" for the handsome artist Z.G., they spend their time at parties and clubs, wearing beautiful clothes and eating the delicious, sugared dishes that Shanghai is known for. Until their father announces to them that he has arranged marriages for both of them to Americans in order to pay off his debts. This event changes everything in Pearl's and May's lives, beginning them on a journey where they deal with everything from immigration, war, muddled relationships, and McCarthyism.

Shanghai Girls has an incredible plot. Pearl and May live through multiple significant historical events, and Lisa See poignantly captures the way these events shape and change their lives. Nothing is clear-cut for these sisters -- their relationships with their husbands, each other, and the world around them are complicated and constantly evolving. The mix of a dramatic, powerful plot and rich character development made Shanghai Girls exactly the kind of book I crave. The situations Pearl and May experience are shocking, but even more shocking is their resilience and the way that they carve out meaningful lives from their struggles. I finished the book feeling emotionally exhausted in the best possible way. I should also mention that this is one of the few times in my life where I have set down the first book and immediately dived into the sequel (usually I like a little buffer so I don't get sick of the author's style).

4.5 stars

Warnings: Vivid descriptions of war, sexual assault, non-explicit sexuality

Dreams of Joy picks up right where Shanghai Girls leaves off, with Pearl's daughter Joy running away to communist China to meet her father. On fire with idealistic fervor for the People's Republic of China, Joy expects to find a wonderful new life. However, communism is not quite what she expects it to be, and she is trapped.

I loved Shanghai Girls, but Dreams of Joy blew its predecessor out of the water. Despite the fact that I spent most of the book wanting to beat a little sense into Joy's head, I was fascinated by the world it described and couldn't stop telling my husband all about what I was learning. I knew absolutely nothing about communist China under Mao and was shocked by the horrific oppression I read about. While much of the story was dark, it was also incredible and unlike anything I have ever read before.

5 stars

Warnings: Disturbing images, non-graphic sexuality

1 comment:

  1. I love these books! I'm glad you read and enjoyed them... it made me kind of sad to see Dreams of Joy in the bargain section at Barnes and Noble, as if no one wanted to buy it, because it's a great book. Shanghai Girls is definitely my favorite of See's books.


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