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REVIEW: Dreams of Joy by Lisa See


In her beloved New York Times bestsellers Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, Peony in Love, and, most recently, Shanghai Girls, Lisa See has brilliantly illuminated the potent bonds of mother love, romantic love, and love of country. Now, in her most powerful novel yet, she returns to these timeless themes, continuing 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, and anger at her mother and aunt for keeping them from her, 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.

Acclaimed for her richly drawn characters and vivid storytelling, Lisa See once again renders a family challenged by tragedy and time, yet ultimately united by the resilience of love.

About the Author

Lisa See is the New York Times bestselling author of Shanghai Girls, Peony in Love, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, Flower Net (an Edgar Award nominee), The Interior, and Dragon Bones, as well as the critically acclaimed memoir On Gold Mountain. The Organization of Chinese American Women named her the 2001 National Woman of the Year. She lives in Los Angeles.


  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Random House; First Edition edition (May 31, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 140006712X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400067121


The story of May and Pearl continues through their daughter, Joy.  After just escaping the Japanese invasion of  China, they must now save Joy from the communist revolution in China.  Joy is living the American Dream and while away in college becomes part of a communist revolutionary movement that is taking place on her campus.  She is encourage to return to her mother's homeland and help with the revolution, so she leaves her family in a fit of anger and begins a search for her roots.  This leads her to discover that her mother and aunt haven't been completely honest with her or themselves. 

This one took me a while to get through and reflect upon.  I never imagined the true horror of exactly what happened during China's Great Leap Forward or the toll it took on the people living during this time and from what I read about is still occurring somewhat today.  I think anyone who grew up during the 50's-60's heard someone say "Eat your dinner, there are people starving in China" and this story illustrates just how true that was.  This one was a bit hard to digest since the story is not a typical one of self discovery but one of just how difficult immigration and escaping the horrors of a homeland that is in turmoil. 

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