♥Xeni♥'s Reviews > Dreams of Joy

Dreams of Joy by Lisa See
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's review
Jul 24, 2011

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bookshelves: china, asia, love, family, ebook, book-of-the-month, historical, fiction
Read from July 16 to 21, 2011 , read count: 1

I didn't like this book very much at all. Mainly this was due to two issues: this was picked by my book club before I had read the book preceeding this one (Shanghai Girls Shanghai Girls by Lisa See) and I really did not identify with the main main character, Joy, at all. (Her mother, the secondary main character, was much more sympathetic to me).

Let me explain:

So this book starts out right after a huge family altercation where Joy (19 years old, of Chinese heritage, but born and raised in the U.S.) finds out that her mother is actually her aunt, and her aunt her birth mother and her father no relation at all and her birth father is an artist from Shanghai. On top of that, she blames herself for her 'fathers' suicide, doesn't feel loved at all (since her mother gave her away to her aunt) and is completely brainwashed by the pro-Communist Chinese group from her university. So what does she do? Runs away to Communist China to "help build the motherland" or something like that.

So far, not really a problem. It gets to be a problem once I started to figure out how incredibly stubborn, pig-headed and naive Joy is. I grew up in America too, but I'd like to think I got 150% more out of that than she did. Obviously the only thing that registered in her 19 years in L.A.'s Chinatown are working on movie sets and loathing her family. I really do not understand how she could have become so brainwashed, that Communism is the be all and end all of her (and China's) problems and then once she saw the squalor and poverty and stupidity going on in China, that she STILL believed in it. Most people in America are taught to think and see for themselves... but somehow NONE of that stuck by her.

Anyway, so she runs off to Shanghai, finds her father, goes with him that same day into the countryside to "teach the people about art", when in fact he is really escaping punnishment for his political views. Joy has absolutely no clue about any of this, so for her it's just like a fun trip on one of her Aunt's movie set's, complete with real peasent huts and chickens. Pearl, Joy's mother (birth aunt) follows Joy into the closed and blocked off country, essentially giving up any chance to leave China again (although she lost almost everything fleeing 20 years prior).

Joy falls in love with a boy from the village (view spoiler)

Right. Scene set for disaster.

Aside from all the family drama (which really runs this book) I got an eye opener about Communist China and the terrible things that Mao did there. While first reading, I was thinking "well, it's not so bad what Mao is doing. It seems like the pesants are happier... more careful about politics, but happier and not pressured under the ruling thumb of the feudal system anymore". And then I lived with Joy through his stupid plans of "making China produce more and more and more". He had the farmers plant 5 times as many seeds in a plot as there is space... something that the farmers know doesn't work, but they follow blindly anyway. They "launch Sputniks" which are these 24 hour races to complete an 'amazing' task: usually ending up with only 1/8th of the actual harvest in, more ruined clothing than useful, and less productivity. In order to meet time goals, the people let everything else fall behind. And then when winter comes they wonder why there is no more food and tens of thounds of people die everywhere.

By the end of this book I was so angry with what went on in Communist China. Are the pesants that ignorant and believing in their little bubble that they don't realize that the path they followed only leads to death? They are all such sheep... up until the very end, when they're literally eating dirt just to have something in their stomachs and then die.

Now I understand my high school history teacher when she said that Mao was responsible for more deaths than there ever were in WWII or during the whole Cold War. This book left me feeling sick and disturbed and to top it all off there was an annoying main character.

I'm actually surprised that I gave the book 3 stars at all, but I guess I didn't hate the book as much as I make it sound here.
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Reading Progress

13.0% "I'm surprised that Joy was expecting a welcome reception from her birth father. Why do all these abandoned children think that? It's been proven over and over that parents abandon their children because they don't want them..."
25.0% "Communist china has taken a lot away from the people, but I think it has also given them a few good things (Marriage Law, more equality for women, more rights for pesants). Although not perfect, there are a lot of better things. Cultural aspects (like festivals) are lacking, Whig I find sad, but on the whole I feel like there has been an improvement in China. Perhaps not in administrative fields, or such."
36.0% "Joy is so naive and dumb. She irritates me so much. Could she really have been *that* brainwashed by her Chinese group in America? Also, when she notices the hypocracy in the Chinese government, she just ignores it and enjoys the parties. Isn't she being as horrid and rude as everyone else then?"
72.0% "This book leaves me feeling so odd. The whole situation feels hopeless, and annoying, and I despair of Joy and Pearl ever being free and happy. Ah well, only a little left to read now."

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