Dreams of Joy continues the story of sisters Pearl and May who first appeared in Shanghai Girls with this novel being more centered around the daughter they share, Joy. What I really enjoy about Lisa See’s books is all I learn about China and it’s history. Dreams of Joy is steeped in history and the story told completely sucked me into its grip.
Dreams of Joy takes us back to the end of Shanghai Girls and picks up from there. Nineteen-year-old Joy, having just lost who she thought was her father, has just learned some long buried secrets regarding her birth and she’s very angry with both her mother Pearl and her Aunt May. Everything she’s known and believed her whole life has been a lie. So, being young, confused, and headstrong she decides to take off to China to try and find her birth father and discover just who she really is. It turns out that her father, Z.G., is an artist in Shanghai and he used to paint pictures of both her mother and aunt when they posed as models for him.
Joy finally makes it to Shanghai and finds her birth father. Z.G. never even knew he had a daughter and despite having no idea how to be a father he doesn’t turn her away or anything like that. She stays with him and he takes her to parties, dinners, and art exhibits. Joy is fascinated by him and his life as he is an important man in Shanghai. At one point he takes her to the countryside to a commune where the people all work to make a better life in China. Joy is excited about helping to rebuild China. She’s even more excited when she meets Tao and falls in love. She agrees to marry him and stay at the commune and finds that this is the one move that she makes that changes her life in ways she can’t even begin to imagine.
In the meantime Pearl, worried about what may happen to Joy in this new China, decides to go after her and bring her back home. Pearl manages to make it back to her old family home and although she is surprised by all the people living there, she is still welcomed. Finally Pearl finds Z.G. and Joy but of course Joy is not going home. This prompts Pearl to stay in China to make sure that Joy will be all right. However as time goes on, communication seems to stop, and Pearl is very worried. She finally receives a letter from Joy that confirms her fears and she and Z.G. rush to try and rescue Joy. The conditions in the commune have gone from bad to worse – people are starving to death – and Joy and her baby are in trouble.
Dreams of Joy is a very intense novel especially when you get to the descriptions of life in the commune. What stuns me the most and always will is the treatment of girls. When Joy had a baby girl everyone was disappointed and upset with her. A baby girl was worth nothing to them. When Joy asked what to name the baby, Tao suggested stupid while his father suggested pig. I was horrified as was Joy. For the spoiled girl that Joy started out as, she certainly grew up by the end of the novel. She learned what was important and that was the love of family. Having her own baby made her realize just how strong her own mother’s love for her was and she learned to cherish that instead of pushing against it.
Despite some parts of this novel being hard to read I loved Dreams of Joy. It takes you to another time and place and shows you what life was like back in 1957 China. I loved Lisa See’s descriptions of all the different foods and I definitely appreciated the history of this novel. What I think is most important though is the love that shines through every page when Pearl fights to help her daughter who she loves more than life itself. As this a sequel to Shanghai Girls it is helpful to have read it. I think you can read Dreams of Joy on it’s own and know what’s going on but you will miss learning about Pearl and May, how they came to live in the United States, and just how Joy came about. Yet another beautifully written novel by Lisa See!
Source: Copy was provided by the publisher for review. No compensation was received for this review and all opinions are my own. This review was first posted on Book Trib.