Dreams of Joy

Written by Lisa See
Review by Viviane Crystal

“Just remember, a person is his – or her – history… What is your history and what are you going to be?” Continuing from the story told in Shanghai Girls, Pearl and Joy journey back to China to hopefully heal the past and forge a deeper connection for the future.

Joy has just discovered that the one she called Mom is really her aunt, and vice versa. Devastated by her stepfather’s suicide, she believes in China she will escape her overwhelming guilt and immerse herself in the communist way in Green Dragon Village. Mao Tse-Tung’s New Society of China is supposedly thriving in the year 1957, but that is all about to drastically change. In the ensuing years, Joy will meet her real father, Z.G. Li, an artist who creates paintings and posters for Communist Party propaganda, fall in love, marry, and have a child. Her idealism, however, is about to undergo a startling and devastating metamorphosis as the dream of utopia devolves into the devastating poverty and brutality manifest during the years of the Great Leap Forward. Pearl, her aunt who raised Joy, follows her to China and maintains a tenuous connection with the ferocious, unconditional love of a true mother during this fragile historical period when progress jettisons long-revered tradition.

Lisa See has clearly done remarkable research as she depicts the range of confusing thoughts, misspoken and carefully crafted words, and unpredictable deeds constantly in heartrending flux for this broken family and nation. The full range of vicissitudes of romantic love, familial love, and love of country carry the reader through breathtaking pages in which our hope, despair and joy parallel these remarkable characters’ experiences all the way to a realistic, endearing conclusion. Lisa See has once again penned an astonishing historical novel.