Overview from www.bn.com: 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.
I can’t begin to say how much I loved this one. It was entertaining from start to finish. I had read the previous book in the series, Shanghai Girls, and loved it also but since it was my first experience with a novel written by Ms. See, I wasn’t certain that I would love this one too. However, I noticed that the ending of Shanghai Girls left the opening idea for a future sequel and hoped that the author would write one which she did.
The first book tells the story of sisters May and Pearl as they leave the comfort of their Shanghai home to arranged marriages to Chinese-born husbands in Los Angeles. When this happens their dreams are shattered yet they make the best of the situation and Pearl ends up with a wonderful daughter as well as a decent relationship with her husband, if I am remembering correctly.
This next book picks up where the other one ended. Pearl’s daughter Joy has just run away to China after discovering the truth about her birth. She hopes to find her biological father and return to the country of her ancestry where she thinks she will have a better life. In the first book we see Joy mostly through the eyes of her mother and aunt but in this one we will get to know her through her own eyes as well as those of her mother.
Joy arrives in China and manages to find her father relatively quickly. He is surprised to find out that he even has a daughter yet he handles it well. He tells Joy that he will go to the countryside (to a village called Green Dragon) to teach art to the masses (he is a famous artist) and that Joy will be his assistant. Though she is surprised, she does not argue for fear of offending her father, and she figures this will allow her to help “the new society.”
This “new society” will eradicated the inferior way that women in China had been treated for centuries the party leaders in the Green Dragon village assure her (and everyone else in the village for that matter) but Joy soon finds out that this is at best only half-true. The residents all work for the commune and this work is the primary focus of the party. Personal issues, including abusive husbands, are only dealt with if it benefits the Communist Party.
While Joy works, Pearl waits. She arrives in China right on her daughters heals only to find out that she is in the countryside and Pearl can’t get the necessary permit to go see her. Eventually she finds her daughter but discovers that she is unwilling to return to the USA with her. So Pearl vows to stay there as long as it takes for her daughter to change her mind or until Pearl’s own death, whichever comes first.
She has a strong love for her daughter that seems to only be equal in her love for God which could become a problem for her in China but she manages to reconcile her faith with her efforts to convince the government representatives assigned to watch her that she is a true believer in the ways of Communism. She says:
“Chairman Mao is against all religions, whether Chinese or Western, but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist…. They can tell me what to do, but they can’t keep me from praying.” p. 118
As time passes, Pearl begins to worry more and more about the choices her daughter makes. She makes good use of her time by working and renewing some of the life that she experienced when she lived in Shanghai before. She also tries repeatedly to get to her daughter when she needs her most. This is what I loved most about her. It is clear how much she loves her daughter and in that way I felt like I got a glimpse inside the mind of my own mother when I read what Pearl was thinking in a given situation. Despite the culture, Pearl truly believes that fighting for her daughter was everything and this made me overlook some of her weaknesses.
Joy also fights back brilliant when she finally realizes that the Great Leap Forward is really a great leap backwards for all of China’s people. She captures the spirit of Pearl when she has a daughter of her own and fights to save her from certain death. But even after all of this, Pearl and Joy will still have to fight more demons if they are to ever make it safely out of China. I highly recommend this one.
contains: some sexuality, violence (I am pleased to report that there was very little profanity also)