Dreams of Joy by Lisa See

More than a follow-up to Shanghai Girls (my review), Dreams of Joy by Lisa See is about sisterly love, loyalty, and adolescence.  Readers will see in Joy, Pearl’s daughter, the headstrong young woman that many parents see in their daughters — they know everything and cannot be told anything they don’t already know and understand.  However, what do young adults do when the times get rough in many cases?  They run.  Joy is no exception, but in her case, she not only runs from home when family secrets are revealed, but she runs to a nation she has never lived in and that is under the iron fist of communism and at the whims of Chairman Mao.  Pearl heads to China after her daughter, in a country that tortured her and abandoned her when her family needed help most.

“Yes, I’ve escaped the blaming eyes of my mother and the reproachful eyes of my aunt, but I can’t escape myself.  The only things I can do to save myself are pull the weeds in the fields, let my emotions for Tao envelop me, and obey what Z.G. tells me to do with a paintbrush, pencil, charcoal, or pastel.”  (page 87)

Set in late 1950s to early 1960s China, Joy brings us on a journey through China in her quest to rediscover herself and find her biological father, while her mother searches for her and evades deportation, imprisonment, and other punishments for her capitalist ties and bourgeois thoughts and actions.  See has taken these characters from China to America, shown us how Pearl and her sister May adapted and became American in Shanghai Girls, and in Dreams of Joy she has expanded their world and struggles, demonstrating how returning to the homeland is fraught with danger and has essentially left Pearl and Joy country-less.  To enter China, they must renounce their U.S. ties, which were hard to win and maintain when Pearl and May arrived as immigrants.

“Four months later, I’m on the deck watching Shanghai come into view.  A week ago, I stepped off a plane in Hong Kong and was enveloped by odors I hadn’t smelled in that particular combination in years.  Now, as I wait to disembark, I breathe in the scents of home — the oil- and sewage-infused water, rice being cooked on a passing sampan, rotting fish moldering on the dock, vegetables grown upriver wilting in the heat and humidity.”  (page 56)

While much of the story is focused on Joy and her first experiences with her biological father Z.G. and homeland China, Pearl’s arrival complicates the story as she and Z.G. are presented as Joy’s parents but are not married and do not share a bed. For Pearl, her journey is not only to reclaim her daughter, but also one of reconciliation with the past, which ultimately leads to the redemption she has longed for.  She returns to Shanghai to find the city in shambles and less vibrant than when she left it, but her home remains and she begins anew as she patiently waits for her daughter’s return to Shanghai from the countryside and to her open arms.

“The village, the fields, and the canteen begin to look like movie sets — just facades.  The people around me seem fake too, putting on their smiling face and shouting slogans about things they don’t believe.  Everyone still pretends to be open, welcoming, and enthusiastic about the Great Leap Forward, but there’s a furtiveness to them that reminds me of rats slinking along the edges of walls.”  (page 260)

What’s fantastic about this novel is not only the deep examination of what love is in its many forms, but what strong bonds a mother and daughter have regardless if the mother is biological or not.  There is a lot to discuss in this novel for book clubs and the like, particularly as See shows the deeply hypocritical slogans and actions of the Maoist regime and its campaigns to “out produce” imperialist nations like Britain and the United States in the Great Leap Forward, while at the same time maintaining its ties with capitalist nations through Hong Kong (which during this time was owned by Britain) and several fairs in Canton.

Dreams of Joy by Lisa See is one of the best books of 2011, and readers will be dragged kicking and screaming into a dark past filled with hypocrisy, corruption, and famine that makes the journey even harder for Pearl, Joy, and their family.  There are moments of joy, resolution, and sadness that will touch readers deeply.  A cultural melting pot of characters that delves deep below the surface of political beliefs and preconceptions to the core of what happiness and reunification with family really means.  Although many Chinese see their homeland and culture as tied to Mao’s liberation, it is clear that deep down their ties to family are at the core of their decisions and actions.  The circle closes around Pearl, May, Z.G., and Joy to make the dreams of bliss a reality for them all.

About the Author:

Lisa See is the New York Times bestselling author of 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, California.

Please check out her Website and my interviewed Lisa See, here.  Please also check out the discussion guide for Dreams of Joy.

The Giveaway for my ARC of Dreams of Joy (international):

1.  Leave a comment about which Lisa See novel is your favorite or why you want to read Dreams of Joy.

2.  Tweet, Facebook, or blog about the giveaway and leave a link in the comments for a second entry.

Deadline is June 22, 2011, at 11:59PM EST


This is my 14th book for the 2011 Wish I’d Read That Challenge.   I’ve wanted to read this since I finished Shanghai Girls last year.


  1. I am nearing the end of this book now, and I am so thrilled by the smallest of details it presents. I had no idea this even was happening in China with the Maoist government. The writing is so wonderful that I feel sometimes that I am a fly on the wall watching Pearl and Joy in their struggles. Excellent book!

    • I’m glad that you are enjoying the book. I really loved it and would recommend that you read the first of these, Shanghai Girls.

  2. I’d like to read this because I need a good kick in the pants to pick up Shanghai Girls and read it. I lugged it halfway across the world and still haven’t got to it yet!

  3. tamela flynn says

    I believe I read Shanghai Girls in the past and I enjoyed it. I read another book about a food writer who lived in China and now has a cooking school there and I became fascinated by the culture. I would love to read this book, it looks very interesting. The changing between cultures is a great theme. Thanks for this opportunity.

  4. I’d love to win Dreams of Joy because I find its setting and the fact that it has certain historical event references in it interesting.

  5. While I haven’t read any of Lisa See’s books, I’d love to read Dreams of Joy because, as a woman whose only sibling is her younger sister, I know the bond sisters can share. I also know this bond is universal, and is strong no matter the culture.

    [email protected]

  6. (I cringe at the typos in my previous comment. :-/ Guess I’m just too excited!)

    Here’s my Tweet: http://twitter.com/#!/ASeaOfBooks/status/81399149022556160

    Thanks again!

  7. I new of Lisa See’s work because I’d read and enjoyed FLOWER NET, THE INTERIOR, and DRAGON BONES. I thought they were really good. But I was completely blown away when I read SNOW FLOWER AND THE SECRET FAN. It remains one of my all-time favorites. I do have a copy of SHANGHAI GIRLS this summer and, since DREAMS OF JOY is the follow-up, it would be wonderful to win you copy. Thanks so much for the chance!

    geebee.reads AT gmail DOT com

  8. Miss Lauren says

    Shanghai Girls is definitely my favorite Lisa Lee book. It was totally captivating and the bond between the sisters was so real. I don’t even have a sister, but I felt like they were my sisters! I can’t wait to read Dreams of Joy because I know I will love it just as much or maybe more than her other books I’ve read.

    Tweeted: http://twitter.com/#!/ravishingreads/status/81227787079401472
    Linked on my blog: http://ravishingreads.blogspot.com/
    Shared on facebook: http://www.facebook.com/misslaurenwilk/posts/182534208468599

    Thanks for the giveaway!
    Miss Lauren

  9. I loved Shanghai Girls and really want to read this follow-up! Thanks so much for the giveaway!

  10. these books sound so good! ive heard alot about them and ive been wanting to read these. there on my wishlist! thank you.
    [email protected]

  11. I can’t wait to read this book! As to my favourite Lisa See book, I think it is Peony in Love, although all of her historical fiction titles have been good. I wasn’t as keen on the mystery book I read by her.

  12. Brittany Gale says



  13. Brittany Gale says

    I haven’t read anything by her yet but this one sounds great!


  14. See never fails to move me with her books and I can’t believe I haven’t read this one yet….lovely review!

  15. Actually I had the same question as Kathy. Although I have read Shanghai Girls, and loved it, I was afraid I would have to re-read it before doing this one (which I have so I don’t need to enter the contest). But I’m glad to hear I will probably pick up what I don’t remember (and probably will remember more than I think!).

  16. I’m bringing this book on vacation with me. Can’t wait to read it! No need to enter me, of course, but I posted the giveaway in my sidebar.

  17. My favorite Lisa See book is Snow Flower and the Secret Fan. I’d love to read Dreams of Joy!

  18. Margaret says

    Shanghai Girls is the only novel of Lisa’s that I have read and I loved it! Thanks for the giveaway!

    [email protected]

  19. i enjoyed ‘shanghai girls.’ thanks for the opportunity to read it’s sequel, serena 🙂

  20. Lisa See was at the Random House tea at BEA and I’ve been dying to read her work ever since. I can’t decide if I should read Shanghai Girls before I read this one.

    • Kathy, I don’t think you have to read Shanghai Girls first because it covers some of what happened in that book in this one, so you won’t be lost, but I would recommend doing so, only because it will enrich your experience with this one.

  21. I can’t wait to read this one as I loved Shanghai Girls.

  22. I have not read a book by her but I have always wanted (well that means since I started blogging and head about her 🙂 I simply want to because I hear her stories and writing is so good


  1. West Of Mars — Win A Book! » Blog Archive » Dreams of Joy by Lisa See says:

    […] Clearly, I need to get offline and go read. (But I’m not going to. Not with THIS backlog!) The latest giveaway is for 1 ARC of Dreams of Joy by Lisa See, her follow-up novel to Shanghai Girls…. The giveaway is open internationally and the deadline is June 22, […]