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Dreams of Joy (See)

Dreams of Joy 
Lisa See, 2011
Random House
368 pp.
ISBN-13: 9781400067121


Summary 
In her most powerful novel yet, Lisa See continues 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. (From the publisher.)



Author Bio 
Birth—February 18, 1955
Where—Paris, France
Education—B.A., Loyola Marymount University
Currently—lives in Los Angeles, California


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. (From the publisher.)

More
At first glance, Lisa See would not seem to be a likely candidate for literary voice of Chinese-American women. With her flaming red hair and freckled complexion, she hardly adheres to any stereotypical conceptions of what an Asian-American woman should look like, however, her familial background has given her roots in Chinese culture that have fueled her eloquent, elegant, and exciting body of work.

See grew up in the Chinatown section of Los Angeles. Although she is only 1/8 Chinese, her upbringing provided her with a powerful connection to that fraction of herself. "I really grew up in this very traditional, old Chinese family," she revealed in an interview with Barnes & Noble.com. "It was very traditional, but also quite magical in a lot of ways, because I really was in a very different culture then how I looked."

See's Chinese background was not the only aspect of her family that affected the course her life has taken. She also comes from a long line of writers and novelists. Her somewhat morose relatives initially led her to believe that writing must be the result of suffering and pain, which turned her off from literary pursuits at first. Ironically, despite her strong family roots, See only decided to try her hand at writing as a means of embarking on a lifestyle without roots.

I knew three things. I never wanted to get married, I never wanted to have children, and I only wanted to live out of a suitcase. How am I gonna do it? And I was really thinking about it, and then one morning, I woke up, and it was truly like a light bulb went off —‘Oh, I could be a writer!' Many, many years later, here I am, married, I have children, [and] I am a writer.

In the wake of this unexpected epiphany, Lisa See began work on her first book On Gold Mountain: The One-Hundred-Year Odyssey of My Chinese-American Family. This highly detailed family history charted the events that led her great-grandfather Fong See to become the godfather of her Chinatown neighborhood and the 100-year-old patriarch of her family. See interviewed close to 100 of her relatives while researching the book that both gave her a clearer portrait of how her racially mixed family developed and broke her into the publishing business.

See then went on to explore other aspects of both Chinese and American culture via fiction. She followed her debut with a series of popular political thrillers set in China and featuring American attorney David Stark. Her novel Snow Flower and the Secret Fan abandons Stark and his pursuit of justice for the time being with a tale that reaches much further back into Chinese culture, and more specifically, the subordinate role women have traditionally played in that culture. This more personal novel scored accolades while also further solidifying her role as a significant Chinese-American writer. And See's Peony in Love (2007) is a jarring historical novel set against the backdrop of an early-17th-century Chinese opera.

See's position in the Chinese-American community has also extended beyond her writing. She was honored by the Organization of Chinese American Women as National Woman of the Year in 2001 and is also responsible for designing a walking tour of her Chinatown home in L.A. Her devotion to that apparently-small, but actually-vast, 1/8 of her ethnicity proves that well-worn adage about never judging a book by looking at its cover. (From the author's website.)

Extras
• I never wanted to be a writer. My mother and my grandfather were both writers. When I was a kid, they both took the position that writing was about suffering and pain, so you can see why I didn't want to be a writer. There came a time when I was about twenty and living in Greece, and I knew three things: I didn't want to get married, I didn't want to have children, and I only wanted to live out of a suitcase. But how was I going to support myself and how was this ever going to happen? One morning I woke up and it was like a light bulb went off: ‘Ah, I could be a writer.' Within twenty-four hours of returning back to the States I had my first two magazine assignments. But if you've been reading this at all closely, you know that I got married and had children. And thank God, because I would have been a pretty boring person and not a very good writer if I didn't have those three people in my life. But I still do love to live out of a suitcase and have been writing most of these answers on a plane from Shanghai to San Francisco.

When asked about what book influenced her as a writer, here is her response:

Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner. I read this novel just before I started writing On Gold Mountain. I loved the way Stegner combined family story with history. I know that this book has come under severe criticism in recent years for possible plagiarism. Nevertheless, it inspired and continues to inspire me. (Bio and interview from a 2005 Barnes and Noble interview.)



Book Reviews 
See revisits Shanghai Girls sisters Pearl and May in this surefire story of life in Communist China. Joy, the daughter Pearl has raised as her own in L.A., learns the truth about her parentage and flees to China to seek out her father and throw herself into the Communist cause, giving See ample opportunity to explore the People's Republic from an unlikely perspective as Joy reconnects with her artist father, Z.G. Li, and the two leave sophisticated Shanghai to go to the countryside, where Z.G., whose ironic view of politics is lost on naïve Joy, has been sent to teach art to the peasants. Joy, full of political vigor, is slow to pick up on the harsh realities of communal life in late 1950s China, but the truth sinks in as Mao's drive to turn China into a major agriculture and manufacturing power backfires. Pearl, meanwhile, leaves L.A. on a perhaps perilous quest to find Joy. As always, See creates an immersive atmosphere—her rural China is far from postcard pretty—but Joy's education is a stellar example of finding new life in a familiar setup, and See's many readers will be pleased to see the continued development of Pearl and May's relationship. Looks like another hit.
Publishers Weekly

This is the eagerly anticipated sequel to See's Shanghai Girls, and what a sequel it is! Continuing the story of Pearl and May Chin, who escaped the Japanese invasion of China during the 1930s, the novel centers on Joy, the daughter that both women have raised, one as aunt, one as mother. When 19-year-old Joy discovers the identity of her "real" mother, she returns to China in 1957. Readers will be drawn in as they experience Joy's life in Mao's Communist China: her life on a commune, starvation, love, oppression, and her fight to stay alive. It's this struggle for life that May and Pearl understand all too well, and it's what sends Pearl back to China. Pearl has the fierce mother love that allows her to disregard her own life to save her daughter. And that's the essential question: What makes a true mother? Verdict: Readers of historical fiction will appreciate the authentic details that See weaves into her novel. You don't have to read Shanghai Girls to love this book, but if you have, this sequel will make you want to reread its predecessor. —Marika Zemke, Commerce Twp. Community Lib., MI
Library Journal



Discussion Questions
1. Joy is frequently described in terms of her Tiger astrological sign. In Dreams of Joy, where do you see her acting true to her Tiger nature? Where do you see her acting un-Tiger like?

2. Many of us grew up believing that the People’s Republic of China was “closed,” and that it remained that way until President Nixon “opened” it. Certainly Pearl (and even Joy, to a great extent) go to China with preconceived ideas of what they’ll see and experience. In what ways are they right—or wrong?

3. Does seeing the world through Joy’s eyes help you to understand Pearl? Similarly, does Pearl give insights into her daughter?

4. The novel’s title, Dreams of Joy, has many meanings. What does the phrase mean to the different characters in the novel, to Lisa, to the reader?

5. In many ways Dreams of Joy is a traditional coming-of-age novel for Joy. Lisa has said that she believes it’s also a coming of age novel for Pearl and May. Do you agree? If so, how do these three characters grow up?  Do they find their happy endings?

6. Although May plays a key role in Dreams of Joy, she is always off stage How do you feel about this? Would you rather have May be an on-stage figure in this novel?

7. Pearl has some pretty strong views about motherhood.  At one point she asks, “What tactic do we, as mothers, use with our children when we know they’re going to make, or have already made, a terrible mistake?  We accept blame.” Later, she observes, “Like all mothers, I needed to hide my sadness, anger, and grief.” Do you agree with her? Does her attitude about mothering change during the course of the novel?

8. Joy’s initial perception of China is largely a projection of her youthful idealism. What are the key scenes that force her to adjust her beliefs and feelings in this regard?

9. Describe the roles that Tao, Ta-ming, Kumei, and Yong play in Dreams of Joy. Why are they so important thematically to the novel?

10. Food—or severe lack of it—are of critical importance in Dreams of Joy. How does food affect Joy’s growth as a person? Pearl’s?

11. Let’s consider the men—whether present in the novel as living characters or not—for a moment. What influence do Sam, Z.G., Pearl’s father, Dun, and Tao have on the story? How do they show men at their best and worst? Are any of these characters completely good—or bad?

12. Dreams of Joy is largely a novel about mothers and daughters, but it’s also about fathers and daughters. How do Joy’s feelings toward Sam and Z.G. change over the course of the novel? Does Pearl’s attitude towards her father change in any way?

13. There are several moments in the novel when people have to choose the moral or ethical thing to do. Where are those places? What purpose do they play? And why do you think Lisa choose to write them?

14. Z.G. quotes a 17th-century artist when he says, “Art is the heartbeat of the artist.” How has this idea influenced his life? What impact does this concept have on Joy?

15. Ultimately, Dreams of Joy is about “mother love”—the love Pearl feels for Joy, Joy feels for her mother, Joy experiences with the birth of her daughter, and the on-going struggle between Pearl and May over who is Joy’s true mother. In what ways do secrets, disappointments, fear, and overwhelming love affect mother love in the story?
(Questions issued by publisher.)

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