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Shanghai Girls #2

Dreams of Joy

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In her most powerful novel yet, acclaimed author Lisa See returns to the story of sisters Pearl and May from Shanghai Girls, and Pearl’s strong-willed nineteen-year-old daughter, Joy. Reeling from newly uncovered family secrets, Joy runs away to Shanghai in early 1957 to find her birth father—the artist Z.G. Li, with whom both May and Pearl were once in love. Dazzled by him, and blinded by idealism and defiance, Joy throws herself into the New Society of Red China, heedless of the dangers in the Communist regime. Devastated by Joy’s flight and terrified for her safety, Pearl is determined to save her daughter, no matter the personal cost. From the crowded city to remote villages, Pearl confronts old demons and almost insurmountable challenges as she follows Joy, hoping for reconciliation. Yet even as Joy’s and Pearl’s separate journeys converge, one of the most tragic episodes in China’s history threatens their very lives.

377 pages, Paperback

First published May 31, 2011

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About the author

Lisa See

34 books47.9k followers
Lisa See is the New York Times bestselling author of Lady Tan’s Circle of Women, The Island of Sea Women, The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, The Island of Sea Women, Peony in Love, Shanghai Girls, China Dolls, and Dreams of Joy, which debuted at #1. She is also the author of On Gold Mountain, which tells the story of her Chinese American family’s settlement in Los Angeles. Her books have been published in 39 languages. See was the recipient of the Golden Spike Award from the Chinese Historical Association of Southern California and the History Maker’s Award from the Chinese American Museum. She was also named National Woman of the Year by the Organization of Chinese American Women. You can learn more about her at www.LisaSee.com. You can also follow her on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

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5 stars
21,416 (34%)
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27,399 (44%)
3 stars
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 5,152 reviews
Profile Image for Praj.
314 reviews790 followers
November 2, 2016
If my mother would have read this book, firstly, she would scoff at Joy for being an ignorant fool and then latched her eyes onto me sternly saying, "See, this is what happens when you do not listen to your mother!" But then, if we do listen to our mothers all the time, how would we craft our own experiences, crash down in our mistakes and strive for success in our own astute ways. Joy was restless, enthusiastic and an erratic teen who like many other adolescent Chinese immigrants romanticized Mao’s ideology as a mere spectator from the other side of the fence. Only if Joy was a little tolerant to her mother’s woes or more educated on Mao’s New China, life could have had been less turbulent and death would not lurk on her doorstep.

Shanghai Girls (the prequel to this novel) ends on a somewhat bitter note with Joy finding out the truth about her parental lineage and Pearl’s husband committing suicide with its guilt embedded deep down in Joy’s heart. Life in Los Angeles’ Chinatown was even more confusing and undesirable , when Joy finds out that Pearl is not her biological mother and her father may be residing in China in all its likelihood. A rambunctious Joy eventually flees from her home and ends up in China where she meets Z.G. (her biological father) and with him she travels through the countryside as an apprentice to Z.G’s cultural painting lessons as a part of a system carved by Mao to induce liberal arts to ordinary Chinese folks. During, one such excursion, Joy meets an illiterate village bumpkin Tao and then in a juvenile aggression of love marries him. Still highly oblivious to the discrepancies of governing functions in mainland China and the countryside authorities, Joy finds herself on the centre stage playing a chaotic part in Mao’s economical sputnik –‘The Great Leap Forward’; banishing all the idealistic aspect of communism that Joy once nourished as a college student in Chicago.

I have read Frank Dikötter’s commendable book on ‘The Great Leap Forward’ and the curse that followed Mao’s economic revolution. The famine that struck the core of China’s agricultural composition brought in vast number of diseases, unimaginable suffrage through hunger and death loomed in every household. Lisa justly elucidates this tragedy that caused nearly 60 million deaths, highlighting the cannibalistic measures adopted by the famished farmers where infants were swapped by neighboring families for maintaining lack of guilt when the babies would be used as meal options. Excelling on her forte of Chinese women and their battles with the conventional norms ; Lisa See once again precisely highlights the second class treatment bestowed on Chinese women regardless the cultural progress.

Joy’s journey through the two parallel worlds illuminates her ferocious personality as she was born in the Year of the Tiger; just like Pearl was meant to be a Dragon of great strength and clemency. Unlike in the earlier volume, the narration is spilt through the words of Pearl and Joy herself; revealing Pearl’s apprehension in seeking happiness while letting go of her traumatic past and Joy’s realization of her true belonging through a harrowing present.

Lisa See illustrates the beginning of a liberating end of betrayals, trepidations, nightmarish chaos of self-identification and the hypocrisy that highlights in every edifying phase of survival. Lisa’s books are always a delight to read and have been applauded through my numerous comprehensions. Contrasting many reviews, this is not a “coming of age” story; it’s a passage of a young woman who chases happiness among revulsion realizing the rainbow that she gazed at was just a watery monochromatic painting of horror.

Moral of the story:- Listen to your mother, although not frequently. Otherwise you could miss out on some remarkable books.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Thomas.
708 reviews171 followers
August 26, 2020
4 stars for a story of tragedy, loss and family. This book starts with strong willed Joy rebelling against her mom and running away to China. It is 1957, the year before "The Great Leap Forward", which becomes a catastrophic famine. Recent research suggests about 45 million people died during this man made famine.
Joy has found out that her real parents are not those she believed to be her parents. She is determined to find her birth father in China. She meets and marries a farmer in a small Chinese village. She suffers terribly during the famine. The ending is one of hope and reconciliation. I strongly recommend it to historical fiction fans. The author has done a great deal of research, giving many details about life during the famine, including the reality of starvation vs. government propaganda.
Some of the descriptions are gruesome. If you are squeamish, this book may not be for you. My kindle edition was 449 pages not the 349 listed in Goodreads.
One quote: "Today the farmers' assignment is one I hardly believe: crushing glass sent from Shanghai and then working it into the soil as a 'nutrient.' It's ridiculous to me, but the farmers do it because The Great Helmsman can't be wrong."
This was a library eBook through the Libby app.
107 reviews2 followers
September 15, 2011
Beautiful, beautiful book...and a bit horrifying as well. I was unaware when I started this book that it was part of a well-known series involving Pearl and Mae, two of the story's main characters. Joy is the 19 year old daughter of Chinese nationals who relocated to California at the start of China's "Cultural Revolution". The book opens with the death of Joy's father and a startling family skeleton revealed. Deeply shaken, Joy leaves the US to pursue her idea of China. Believing, as only a college student can, all she hears about the 'new' China, and juxtaposing that against her disillusionment with her life, she runs off to participate in Mao's "Great Leap Forward", with profound consequences for all.

Joy is as annoying as any know-it-all college kid, but also as lovable and sympathetic. Pearl and Mae are completely believable and fully dimensional, as are all characters right down to the most peripheral. See gives an in-depth look at a variety of lives, both in the US and in China, and at the global changes wrought by Maoist politics. The story of Joy's marriage and village life are so deeply disturbing that I had to stop reading, having forgotten the utter desperation and extreme poverty caused by the Great Leap forward and the famine. Horrors are in plentiful supply, but not used gratuitously, lest we forget, which I had.

See neatly ties up the threads of the story, but not in a trite or cloying way. Overall a very satisfying read and quite a re-education.
Profile Image for Magrat Ajostiernos.
556 reviews3,828 followers
February 6, 2021
Me ha gustado mucho esta bilogía que la autora comenzó con 'Dos chicas de Shanghai'.
De nuevo me sorprende la habilidad de Lisa See para atrapar al lector desde la primera línea y tenerte aferrada a sus páginas por muy angustioso o dramático que sea lo que estás leyendo.
En este caso toda la historia está centrada en El Gran Salto Adelante que tuvo lugar en China en los años 60. No es un tema que sea nuevo para mi pero aún así no puedes dejar de horrorizarte cuando lees sobre este tema de nuevo. Por suerte la autora consigue equilibrar muy bien el relato de los horrores con las tramas más ligeras familiares y amorosas resultando a fin de cuentas una lectura ligera pero que logra dejar cierto poso.
Lo que más me ha gustado es descubrir la evolución de Pearl, que se cierra completamente en esta historia, y tras todos sus infortunios y desgracias, por fin aprende a ser feliz.

Profile Image for Ellie.
1,456 reviews366 followers
November 28, 2015
I'll say at the outset: I love Lisa See. I loved On Gold Mountain: The 100 Year Odyssey of My Chinese-American Family. The Flower Net, Shanghai Girls, Peony in Love, and Snow Flower and the Secret Fan. I love her writing, her carefully researched hstory, her political commitment, and deft creation of characters, her portrayal of relationships, especially family ones.

So I was thrilled to win her soon-to-be-published new work, book:Dreams of Joy: A Novel|9500416] from the goodreads giveaway.

But I was also a little nervous. I knew I had to write a review of a writer I more than respect and admire. "What if"?

But to my great relief, I loved Dreams of Joy. It does not disappoint. In fact, it may well be her best novel so far. It is the continuation of See's novel Shanghai Girls, the story of the relationship and journeys of sisters May and Pearl.

Briefly, Pearl and May escape from China after having been traumatized by events during the war between China and Japan. They come to America to begin fresh. They are children running of the past to create, as so many others have and continue to, a new life in a new country.

They grow up and Pearl has a daughter, Joy. Dreams of Joy is her story. I won't write more about the family because their story is the complicated heart of this story.

I will say that Joy, reversing the journey of her mother, leaves America and goes to China out of an idealistic wish to be a part of the people's movement there. She also has other, more personal, motives.

The time is 1958. Joy is about to learn the difference between idealistic dreams and the sometimes horribly harsh reality that is caused by forcing their embodiment in people's lives. As most of us know, Chairman Mao's "Great Leap" was not the great freedom for the masses that at least some of us, like Lisa, believed was happening at the time.

The book appears to be meticulously researched. This is the way I like to learn history: through stories of how people lived it. We watch Lisa grow up fast. Lisa is not a perfect person but she is a beautifully realized her. Through her, her experiences, and her relationships we learn about a dark period in Chinese history and about how a young, somewhat self-centered, girl becomes a woman.

Once again, See's writing is beautiful: clean and straightforward, beautifully balanced and always serving her story. The characters are engaging and the backstory-the history of a continent-is fascinating. And, again as always, See is interested not only in individuals on their own, but people interacting with others, with depictions of the complications and commitments of family love and life and the interactions between these people and the society they live in.

See may be one of the great writers of people and their times, of the effect history has on individuals and the impact individuals have on each other.

I strongly urge everyone to read this book.
Profile Image for Taury.
458 reviews83 followers
January 1, 2022
Not one of Lisa See’s best works. Does show how scary China was in the 50s. The corruption and lack of humanity was devastating! The book seemed to just drop and end with no closure.
Profile Image for Dorie  - Cats&Books :) (on hiatus).
975 reviews2,640 followers
January 14, 2019
*** I wanted to share this review because Ms. See has a new book coming out in March, I'm hoping it will be a great one :) ***

This is the follow up to Ms. See's Shanghi Girls. At the start of the story Joy learns the secret that her aunt is her true biological mother. She is angry and defiant and ha also been keeping company with idealists who believe that the "New China" sounds like a great idea.

Joy actually goes to China to find her father and in doing so gives up her US citizenship. She throws herself into the "New Society" heedless of the dangers in the communist regime. Her father is a famous artist and has been allowed to continue to paint as long as he paints only what the new regime wants him to. Joy goes with him to the countryside and lives in a small hut, works in the fields and tries to fit in.

Her aunt, who raised Joy is devastated by her flight and terrified for her safety. She also goes to China, Shanghai, where she grew up. She faces old demons and almost insurmountable challenges as she follows Joy. As Joy and Pearl's separate journeys converge one of the most tragic episodes in China's history threatens their lives.

I really enjoyed this book, more than Shanghai Girls. I found the telling of what actually went on in China during Mao's leadership taught me many things that I did not know. Ms. See's writing is very good and wonderfully descriptive. I found the story interesting with lots of twists and turns to keep my interest. I would recommend this book, especially for anyone who has read Shanghai Girls. Another great book from Lisa See.

**An all time favorite of mine**
Profile Image for Gwen Haaland.
148 reviews5 followers
September 14, 2011
This is one of my favorite books of all time! Its the powerful and satisfying conclusion to "Shanghai Girls."
Exquisitely written down to the last vivid detail in this amazing journey across 1950s China and into the heart of what it means to be a family. If you were awestruck by Lisa See's "Shanghai Girls," prepare yourself for an even finer novel with "Dreams of Joy" completing the tapestry with compelling and mesmerizing redemptive power. Great sense of place and evolution of somewhat flawed, but totally believable characters. My highest recommendation: at least 5 stars throughout! The audio rendition was fabulous.
(I agree with the reader who said she would give it 10 stars if it were possible.)
Profile Image for Amber.
5 reviews
June 27, 2011
I know there was a bigger point here, but I kept thinking "What a dumbass girl..."
Profile Image for Sara.
Author 1 book460 followers
May 28, 2017
Dreams of Joy is Lisa See’s sequel to Shanghai Girls, but that isn’t really what it is...it is really the completion of what was, for me, an incomplete story. It would be like having Gone With the Wind end when Scarlett gets back to Tara after the burning of Atlanta...you would feel cheated, because you would know there were a lot of important pieces of this story that you didn’t yet know. It just couldn’t have ended there. Everything truly important happens in GWTW after that point, your understanding of the characters comes from Scarlett’s efforts to rebuild her lost world...the second half is the crux. That is how I feel about what Dreams of Joy is to Shanghai Girls.

This was a powerful novel with an in-depth look at life inside Communist China in the early days of Mao. It is also a serious examination of love: love of country, love of family, love of a mother, love of a lover, and what it is to sacrifice for each of those loves. It was interesting to see the growth of these characters over the course of the books, especially Pearl, who has to deal with her role as a mother and a sister in ways that she never expected to, and in doing so is forced to see herself in a clearer light than is comfortable.

Taken together, Shanghai Girls and Dreams of Joy are a great reading experience. They reach a level that neither of them could achieve alone. I was vaguely disappointed at the end of Shanghai Girls, but that was completely erased upon reading Dreams of Joy. I will now feel good about reading Lisa See’s other books. I still won’t rate her quite up there with Amy Tan’s early work, but she comes closer than I had thought.
Profile Image for Cheryl.
464 reviews583 followers
May 5, 2013
In Shanghai Girls you read about the Japanese Invasion of China, and follow Pearl and her sister May as they try to escape China after their family unravels. In order to get to America, they must go through some horrific ordeals.

"Dreams of Joy" is the continuation of this book.

In this book, Pearl and her daughter, Joy are the narrators. Here, you read more about the Chinese "Great Leap Forward." While not as plot-driven and laced with conflict as Shanghai Girls was, this book is a fictional look into post-conflict China. Lisa See highlights once again, the turmoil that women and children face in post-conflict, misogynistic societies. It is raw as it is fluid, and though you can tell that the words and scenes are cushioned a bit in this book, the description of the scenery still remains vivid and authentic--as it should be if one is to reveal real world events to the masses. So many historical facts abound here, at the core, the story of a mother and daughter trying to reconcile their relationship.

Joy though, had the makings of an unreliable narrator and her relationship to Pearl, seemed like a continuation of Pearl's relationship to May. Unlike the authenticity I felt from Pearl and her mom's story, this seemed a bit contrived as Joy seemed to do things that didn't seem to go with a smart, nineteen-year-old American college student who had studied Communism and was raised by immigrant parents who always talked about it. Even as she saw some things with her own eyes, she remained unconvinced. I saw that frustrating at times. There were moments during the plot, where the setup to the tension revealed everything before it happened. Some things were so plain to see that you wondered why Joy wasn't seeing them. At times, I yearned for more depth to some internal plots, but what I really took away was the wealth of information. This was one heavily researched book.

Could you read this without reading the first book? Sure, you wouldn't be confused. I wouldn't recommend you do that though because the first book in this series adds more depth to the story.

**3.5 stars because I meandered between a 3 and 4 for this one**
Profile Image for Anna.
880 reviews37 followers
October 24, 2015
“Maybe stories and memories are destined to be incomplete...”
― Lisa See, Dreams of Joy

I'm glad I decided to read the 2 stories together since the ending of "Shanghai Girls" is the beginning of "Dreams of Joy".
It's a family saga that spans about 25 years between the two stories; it begins in Shanghai moves to LA then returns to China.
The first part in mostly the story of two sisters, Pearl and May, told by Pearl.

“So often, we're told that women's stories are unimportant. After all, what does it matter what happens in the main room, in the kitchen, or in the bedroom? Who cares about the relationships between mother, daughter, and sister? A baby's illness, the sorrows and pains of childbirth, keeping the family together during war, poverty, or even in the best of days are considered small and insignificant compared with the stories of men, who fight against nature to grow their crops, who wage battles to secure their homelands, who struggle to look inward in search of the perfect man. We're told that men are strong and brave, but I think women know how to endure, accept defeat, and bear physical and mental agony much better than men. The men in my life—my father, Z.G., my husband, my father-in-law, my brother-in-law, and my son—faced, to one degree or another, those great male battles, but their hearts—so fragile—wilted, buckled, crippled, corrupted, broke, or shattered when confronted with the losses women face every day...Our men try to act strong, but it is May, Yen-yen, Joy, and I who must steady them and help them bear their pain, anguish, and shame.”
― Lisa See, Shanghai Girls
Profile Image for Spider the Doof Warrior.
433 reviews238 followers
August 29, 2015
So, Shanghai girls ended with me screaming WHAT THE? THAT'S IT!? IT'S OVER. AUGH! BUT WHAT'S GOING TO HAPPEN?
So there's this book to answer the question. Spoiler for Shanghai Girls, but Joy runs away to China which is the stupidest thing she could do since it's when Mao took over.
Pearl goes out of her way to find her and bring her home.
The only problem with this book is perhaps things resolve a bit too neatly. It's why I'd give it more of a 3.5. The best thing about this book is learning what China was like under Mao for peasants and city folk alike.
It was no dinner party, that's for sure. It was horrible. The Great Leap Forward claimed millions of lives, all from starvation. See shows how some even resorted to cannibalism they were so desperate for food.
All I can say is be glad you weren't around back then and try not to complain about your lack of freedom in this day and age and country when you can at least leave your town whenever you want to. The book in terms of things like that is well researched. It's horrible for innocent and naive Joy to go through all of this and have her idealism smacked out of her.

Read it again. This book is good, but the only problem with it is things wrap up a bit too neatly, but considering how much misery Joy, May and Pearl endured maybe they deserved a nice happy ending? It's not realistic in the sense that they'd probably have problems getting all of these people into America including an artist who did propaganda posters, a small boy and a random Chinese dude, not to mention the baby. And Joy got RID of her passport too.

But dang it! These people have gone through enough. May deserves to get with ZG after years of being separated from him and having to marry a teenage boy. (It doesn't matter that he was developmentally disabled, he really was a nice person. Pearl deserves to be with a nice man like Dun and have an adopted son and her daughter and granddaughter back alive. And Joy deserves to paint beautiful pictures and appreciate both of her mothers and their sacrifices for her. She learned a lot about life and I just want them all to be happy so do NOT write a sequel, Lisa See and make them all miserable again because, they really have suffered enough! I want to give these people cookies and genuine Chinese food.


Read this again. Teenagers need to be locked in a tower and not let out because they are not very bright and think they know EVERYTHING.

Also, there's a HUGE continuity error that needs to be fixed. Pearl had a hysterectomy in the last book and shouldn't be able to have periods anymore. Other than that, it's still very good and really lets you know how terrible Mao was and how much his policies made people suffer, starve and die. Not to mention eat children.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Ashley Marie .
1,216 reviews376 followers
July 8, 2017
This was a phenomenal follow-up to Shanghai Girls. The themes leaped out at me -- mother-daughter, sister-sister, and overall family relationships tie this whole story together in the deepest of ways, and more than once I teared up while listening; I recently made a pretty big mistake that hurt my parents and my sister, and this turned into such a perfect read when I was searching for a way to mend things, as I listened to Joy and Pearl come back together.

While Shanghai Girls saw Pearl and May growing up and living their lives through the late 30s and into the 50s, Dreams of Joy follows Joy back into what is now Mao's Red China in the late 50s. The research is again impeccable, the descriptions are intimate, and each of the characters are their own person. We come in contact with several old friends and some new ones too. Joy makes mistakes, learns, and grows, as does Pearl. May takes a little bit of a backseat but remains close to the action via her letters to her sister.

The ending was everything I wanted it to be. I actually tweeted the author several times while reading because the book had me so on edge and I was terrified of it not ending positively; so many stories during the Great Leap Forward didn't. Again looking forward to my next Lisa See book!
Profile Image for Michael.
393 reviews5 followers
August 20, 2011
If you want to read/understand about China without it being 'helped' (all pun intended towards "The Help") along by strange, stilted "orientalist" notions of how it used to be in the old times, this would NOT be the book/series to read.

As an articulate asian (from Singapore), it pains me to read such trash passing off as historic fiction/filtered through what are very much western eyes (doesn't matter if the writer knows Amy Tan or has See as a surname) and targeted to what are clearly western notions of how people behaved in China. This novel just brings back horrible memories of watching Pearl S Buck's "The Good Earth" acted by actors forced to be asian when clearly they're not.

Likewise, this novel is written in such a crude/sing-song fashion as to mock the very people it is trying to depict.

If one is to choose a clothing analogy, it's like Shanghai Tang trying to represent Chinese fashion.

This novel is a pastiche/travesty and shame on Bloomsbury for allowing such rubbish to be published.
698 reviews
November 29, 2011
I am glad I read this one, to learn the continuing story of sisters May and Pearl, and daughter Joy, but I do not think this book was as good as the previous ones. We meet up with Joy again as she has run away from home to go back to China to help build the new revolution. It is the 1950s, Mao has come to power in 1949, and Joy is burning with excitement over communes, socialism, etc. She soon learns that it is not all as romantic as she had thought, however, as she reunites with her birth-father ZG and travels with him to a commune to try to teach peasants how to paint. Mom/Aunt Pearl travels to China to try to find her (this stretches the limits of credulity) and they must learn how to exist on the commune. Joy marries a peasant in what turns out to be an unhappy marriage but does bear him a child (a daughter, a disappointment to the father and his family). But she convinces her mother that she is happy so that Pearl may feel free to leave for Shanghai with ZG; will they finally get a chance to be together and find love? No, Pearl eventually realizes ZG really was meant for May after all, and she accepts this, and soon falls in love with a boarder in her old family home, Dunn. May is only a peripheral character until the very end; you get the feeling See doesn’t quite know what to do with her, so just has her back in LA writing letters and sending $ over to Pearl and Joy. Eventually, they all escape communist China and meet up with May in Hong Kong. Like I said, this book, for some reason, just didn’t seem as up to snuff as her previous books, and, in a lot of places, required a lot of willing suspension of disbelief. The characters also felt a little flat to me. Oh well! So that I do not end on a less-than-positive note, I will say that it was interesting to learn more about the 1950s in China, a time of great privation in the countryside, so much so that not much has been written about it, b/c most people died!
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Jess.
106 reviews8 followers
August 29, 2012
My main complaint here was that the suspension of disbelief required for this book was a bit much. I enjoyed the story -- once I just decided to suck it up and suspend -- and the description of the famine that resulted from the Great Leap Forward was heartbreaking, but overall I just couldn't get past how ridiculously improbably the entire scenario was. Starting from pretty much the first page you have situations that just defy reason. The only real conclusion we're left to draw as readers is that Joy is just plain stupid, except clearly we're not supposed to think that. We're supposed to think she's just young and idealistic and so in love with Tao from the village and as a result has abandoned all logic. She makes a series of startlingly bad decisions (and she has help making these decisions. For some reason nothing/no one stops her!) and yet things still turn out a-ok. Lisa See ultimately spends so much time writing around this overseas returnee premise, piling unlikely scenario upon unlikely scenario, that it almost ruined the book for me.

The other major flaw with this book is that if you haven't read Shanghai Girls it won't make any sense. I feel like Lisa See must have just been really attached to her characters and not ready to let them go, but this book would have been so much better if she's just written a new book about the Great Leap Forward with new characters and without the whole return to the motherland premise. The most interesting characters in the book are the villagers, they're the ones with a real story to tell, not the spoiled 19 year old who thinks it'll be fun to play at revolution for a few years and has the inevitable rude awakening.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
1,552 reviews82 followers
December 7, 2016
This is a second in a series and I would not recommend reading it prior to reading Shanghai Girls. In the first book, two young women, sisters, leave China fleeing wartime atrocities perpetrated by the invading Japanese and family tragedy to make a home in 1930’s California. Twenty years later, one of their daughters, runs away from a family tragedy of her own back to China where she is convinced the Communist Revolution is building a more just world for all humanity. It is 1957, the start of the Great Leap Forward, so the reader knows that any naive idealism about the Revolution will soon be dispelled. See creates complex family relationships in her novels, portraying relationships that can deeply wound because they are so deeply loved. I also appreciated the setting of this novel. The varied experiences of an average civilian during the height of the Revolution was depicted. But this novel also fell short of my expectations in a few ways. The story is told from the perspective of both mother and daughter, but both voices sounded exactly the same, both the English-speaking California teen and the Chinese transplant whose heart has always been in her homeland. There were also many moments when details to move the plot seemed more convenient than realistic. But my greatest disappointment was the lack of emotional immediacy. The events are narrated for the reader, including information about the feelings of the narrator, but these had the quality of one reporting on what is being observed beyond the window rather than what one is living through. I would give this 3.5 stars, or close to that.
Profile Image for Crazy About Love ❤️.
221 reviews54 followers
April 2, 2022
⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ five stars -

This book earns five stars due to See’s highly talented writing capabilities. In truth, I would have been torn between four and five stars, as one of the supporting mc’s here is tstl (the daughter, Joy), but this book keeps its five stars due to the stellar storytelling.

This book is a continuation of See’s “Shanghai Girls”, and should be read only after reading that novel. My review of that five star book can be read here 👉 https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...

I thoroughly enjoyed this story, even though it’s difficult subject matter. It’s a solid fiction tale that’s centered around communism, and the characters’ reactions and cultural experiences in Red China.

It’s my belief that readers of this story must be able to keep an open mind when reading, and that knowledge of Chinese customs and mores (specifically Shanghainese customs of the time), will help readers appreciate this story more. This story is definitely a study of Eastern culture, and it’s not fair to the characters to contrast them against modern Western ideals and values.

I really enjoyed this tale, and could appreciate the wholly Chinese/Shanghainese sentiment. I am not Asian myself, but I did lived there for a number of years, and did make efforts to appreciate and learn as much as I could about the country’s past and present culture, both by exploring, learning from personal accounts, and by speaking with residents about customs and values.

Overall, I highly enjoyed this stellar work of fiction and would highly recommend. Accept the characters for the time they are portrayed in, and you’ll appreciate their actions better throughout this tale.

Five solid stars.
Profile Image for Kkraemer.
731 reviews20 followers
June 18, 2011
Initially, I thought that having Joy and Pearl return to China was such an obvious device that I was disappointed. Joy was naive, judgmental, and superficial; Pearl still critical. Not a great leap forward.

Then, it got more interesting: they arrive in 1950's China and serve as sort of tour guides through the various parts of Chinese society. Vicariously, I spent time in a commune; I spent time at banquets in Shanghai. Most interesting.

Meanwhile, quietly, the characters grow: Joy becomes a fully fascinating and very real character, and Pearl changes from a martyr to a woman much more complex, much more real. By the end of the book (an almost Indiana Jones sort of feel...NOT a spoiler), I was riveted by their very different stories, and HAD to know what happened to these characters who, initially, seemed so flat and lifeless.

How did she do that? Here I was, distracted by China's Great Leap Forward while these characters grew into real people that I cared about.

See is an amazing writer, and this may well be her best book.
Profile Image for Meredith.
165 reviews10 followers
June 16, 2011
I'm thrilled that there is a sequel to Shanghai Girls! This looks good; I can't wait to read it. Just can't decide if I should buy the book or read on my Kindle!
If you have not read Shanghai Girls yet.. go get yourself a copy.

This book was so good; I'm a little bummed out that I've finished reading it.

I'm not going to recap the whole plot because so many other people have done so on their reviews. It's really about relationships within a family, and life in communist China during the 'Great Leap Forward'. Lisa See has obviously done a lot of detailed research and really brings to life what it was to live under those brutal conditions. I was crying at the end! But I won't give away the story.

Pick yourself up a copy; it's worth it. I'd give it 10 stars if I could!
Profile Image for Louise.
1,548 reviews79 followers
June 24, 2011
On August 23, 1957, nineteen-year-old Joy, is a confused and upset Chinese girl. Everything she thought she knew about her birth has been a lie! The woman she thought was her mother was her aunt. Her aunt is actually her mother, and the man she loved as her father turns out not to have been her father at all and now he’s dead. Her “biological” father is an artist from Shanghai whom both her mother and aunt have loved since before Joy was born. His name is Li Zhi-ge or Z.G. Li Zhi-ge used to paint Joy’s mother and aunt when they were models back in Shanghai.

At 2 o’clock in the morning, Joy decides to leave their Los Angeles, California home and go to China. She packs a bag, writes her mother a note and quietly slips out the door. She walks to the nearest pay phone and calls her boyfriend Joe and tells him to get up, get dressed and get on a plane to San Francisco to meet her – they were going to China! Joe was having no part of that and hung up on her. However, Joy is still going to China, determined as ever to find her “real” father: “…even if he lives in a country of 600 million.”

Joy is dazzled by Z.G. but is totally blinded by idealism and defiance and throws herself into the New Society of Red China, heedless of the dangers in the Communist regime.

Distraught by Joy’s leaving and terrified for her safety, Pearl is determined to save her daughter, no matter the personal cost. From the crowded city to remote villages, Pearl confronts old demons and almost insurmountable challenges as she follows Joy, hoping for reconciliation.

A beautiful story of a family challenged by tragedy and time, but ultimately united by the resilience of love. Lisa See has a remarkable ability for writing and I’ve read every book she has written and with each one she just keeps outdoing herself. This is one you won’t want to miss.

Profile Image for Book Concierge.
2,733 reviews327 followers
October 6, 2017
Digital audiobook performed by Janet Song.

This is the sequel to Shanghai Girls and any synopsis, no matter how brief, will include a spoiler for anyone who hasn’t read the first book. So, I’m going to dispense with that, other than to say that this book really focuses on China and the results of the cultural revolution.

The novel gives the reader an horrific look at the Great Leap Forward and the devastating results of grandiose ideas imposed with little practical thought. The scenes of privation and starvation, of people willing to eat “anything” are disturbing and enlightening. I was already familiar with this episode in China’s recent history, but watching it unfold through these characters made is somehow “personal” and gave it much more impact. See also explores the meaning of love in this book: parent/child love, young love, love between friends, love of country.

My main problem with the book was the central character: Joy. She was so immature and naïve, so stubborn in her refusal to listen to reason, so rash in her actions ... I just wanted to throttle her. On the other hand, Pearl really shines in this story. Talk about a strong heroine!

Janet Song does a fine job narrating the audiobook. She has great pacing and a style of reading that really gives a sense of the culture. I’ve listened to other books set in China, narrated by Song, and she’s equally wonderful reading them all.

Profile Image for Celia.
1,160 reviews146 followers
February 1, 2018
Writing a review about this excellent book is difficult. I just do not want to give too much away.

Joy is the daughter of May, but has been brought up by Pearl. When she finds out that the two sisters have been lying to her about who is her mother and who is her father, she leaves LA to become a Chinese socialist in Mao Zedong's Peoples Republic of China (PRC) and find her birth father.

She DOES find her birth father, Z.G. Li and visits the countryside. There she falls in love with a local farmer and the lifestyle. But things get very ugly. Those who know Chinese history are aware that a horrible famine overtakes China. Joy, her husband, and her baby Samantha almost die. In the meantime, Mother Pearl has returned to Shanghai to attempt to convince her idealist daughter to return to the United States.

This was a serious story, using the failures of the PRC as a backdrop to a beautiful story of a mother's love.

4 solid stars.
Profile Image for Ellenjsmellen.
450 reviews96 followers
November 6, 2011
I enjoyed this book more than Shanghai Girls. I'm sure there will be another to come out based on the characters.
Profile Image for Ashley.
213 reviews11 followers
December 5, 2012
Since Dreams of Joy is the sequel to Shanghai Girls, there will be some necessary spoilers here. If you haven’t read Shanghai Girls, it is necessary to understand the full story - there are numerous references to happenings in the first book.

Picking up immediately where Shanghai Girls left off, Dreams of Joy begins with Joy’s distress after her father’s death and the revelation that the mother she has known all her life is her aunt and her real father is somewhere in Shanghai. Unable to make sense of the situation, she rashly chooses to run away to China - a country she has only ever known through photographs and the politics discussed in a University of Chicago communist group for Chinese students. When her boyfriend brushes her off as being dramatic, Joy realizes she must make the trip alone. She takes her college fund, buys a one-way ticket to Hong Kong, and makes her way into China.

I was expecting the search for Z.G. to be the bulk of the book, but that’s taken care of within the beginning, and the story instead moves on to highlighting communist China. Dreams of Joy is still about family, love, and strength, but it’s also about showing the reality of China under the rule of Mao (something I can’t seem to find a lot of authors talking about, except for See and Anchee Min).
Starting her “adventure” in China with a trip to help out a peasant village, Joy is drawn in by how inspiring and successful the communist ideals seem to be. Driven even further by Pearl’s journey to find her, Joy chooses life in the village, starting a downward spiral into the deceit and hypocrisy of the regime that she idolized. The novel is split in equal parts between Joy and Pearl, sharply contrasting life in the village and life in Shanghai as Pearl makes the best she can of her old home and Joy tries to maneuver around her new life as safely as possible.

Like Shanghai Girls, Dreams of Joy constructs a world of political turmoil and tightropes to walk, unpretty goodbyes, and extreme personal struggles, but it did seem to take fewer risks. Throughout Shanghai Girls, May and Pearl learned what true loss was and were subjected to terrors and experiences that changed and shaped them. Throughout the book, Pearl thinks back to the devastating moments in her life - they are never washed away. What Dreams of Joy does, however, is wraps things in a bow as well as they can be. Some moments are not realistic, seemingly for the purpose of leading in happier directions, and fewer liberties are taken with main characters as with those on the side. The aftermath of gruelling moments is the sequel is not as seriously considered as it was in the first book. In the midst of extreme China, things are bleak and disturbing, but once the city comes back into sight, the bleakness almost disappears, and Joy and Pearl are back to talking just as they would have in California. The prose also is not quite as beautiful as in its predecessor, though there are a few gems hidden in the chapters.

With a good suspension of disbelief, however, Dreams of Joy can be moving and comes with plenty of moments of surprise - a good completion to the story of the two beautiful girls who fled the city they loved and did what they could to survive.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
841 reviews1 follower
June 4, 2012
"Dreams of Joy" is far more powerful, compelling and altogether richer than its predecessor, Shanghai Girls. In that book, we followed sisters May and Pearl from their "beautiful girl" days in Shanghai through a perilous and life-altering escape from China, a (deliberately) long wait on Angel Island and a new life in Chinatown (Los Angeles). Dreams of Joy is a mother-daughter story, a story of idealism meeting reality, and the strength of familial bonds.

Joy flees to China when faced with a revelatory truth. To her, Communist China can not be as bad as her family make it out to be. The visions perceived as a college student mingle with a new shame and a desire to meet her father, combining in her quick decision to go to China. Pearl, her mother, is haunted by memories of her final days in China, as well as by-gone more glorious days in China. Despite Pearl's avowal to never return, she does go back to China, to find her daughter. All is not well in 1957 China, and the great leaps, Sputniks and other idealistic plans fall far short of their intended goal.

As Joy learns what it is to be a peasant, a worker, and a daughter-in-law, she also learns about the strength and solidity of her American life, and the many gifts her family gave her. As Pearl returns to her girlhood home, she comes to terms with relationships in the past, the value of family and illusion, and (finally!) gets a backbone. The horrors of starvation, of Swap Child, Make Food, and control through fear are a memorable and haunting element throughout this book. Too, the inconsistency of Communist ideals versus party privilege rankle true believers, creating interesting wrinkles.

Many loose ends need to be tied up, and in many ways they are, without seeming too strained. In the end, Sam is a lucky girl to have such a caring mother, loving grandmother and doting great-aunt, and large and extended Chinese-American community, as is her mother Joy.
Profile Image for Rebecca.
2,538 reviews122 followers
May 2, 2019
After her 19 year old daughter, Joy's, abrupt departure to China in 1957 to find her birth father, Z.G., Pearl heads there as well desperate to find her. Will she succeed? And, with both of their passports seized upon entry by the Communist government, will they even be able to leave China and return to Los Angeles where Pearl's sister, May, waits for them?

After listening to Shanghai Girls and having it end on a cliffhanger, I couldn't wait to listen to this audiobook... and it definitely didn't disappoint! This was the perfect conclusion to Pearl and May's stories, especially for Pearl because during her frantic quest to find Joy, she discovers the woman she should be: "A dragon of great strength and forgiveness."

Location: Shanghai, China

Profile Image for Lisa Roberts.
1,436 reviews
July 12, 2011
Very well written and took many twists that I was not expecting. I learned a lot about Communist China that I found interesting and want to learn more.
Profile Image for Lucia Nieto Navarro .
696 reviews143 followers
June 10, 2022

Segunda parte de "Dos chicas de Shanghái" y sigue la historia donde la dejó. La historia se desarrolla en China, en la época del Gran Salto de Mao. (Super interesante)

El libro se divide su narración entre los hechos que le ocurren a la hija y los que suceden a Pearl, nuestra protagonista, mientras emprende su búsqueda y cuando la encuentra.

El tema central sin duda, es igual que en el anterior la familia y sobre todo la relación entre madres e hijas Aunque destaco todo lo que les toca vivir, ese sufrimiento por la hambruna, el trabajo sin sentido, todos los que se aprovecharon de estas personas...

Una novela que te hace pensar en estos paises que tienen un lider y al cual se idolatra sea lo que sea y haciendo lo que sea.

Recomiendo la historia porque se aprende un montón sobre este país tan desconocido en muchos aspectos. Es verdad que para mi gusto esta historia es mas lenta que la anterior y no tiene tanto ritmo, pero la recomiendo, igual que todo lo que escribe esta autora.
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