Dreams of Joy by Lisa See is the sequel to Shanghai Girls. It picks up when nineteen-year-old Joy, daughter of Pearl and Sam Louie, runs off to communist China to aid in the communist cause. There she finds her birth father and quickly realizes her disillusion in the utopian society of communism. She lives in a farming village and soon develops a relationship with a young man. All the while Pearl is frantic and gives up her life in Los Angeles to search for her missing daughter. Times in China are tough and they get even tougher as Mao Tse Tung launches his Great Leap Forward.
The Great Leap Forward promoted "collectivism," where people worked collectively for the good of China. Farmers were no longer allowed to grow what they wanted and in the manner they were accustomed. Mao Tse Tung strictly enforced planting crops extremely close together in an effort for greater production. However, this crowded out the plants and caused many crop failures. Although other factors may have contributed, a devastating famine resulted and millions of people died during the late 1950s and early 60s. Like everyone else, Joy struggled with hunger and shocking conditions. A few extremely disturbing instances in the way they dealt with the hunger made all the eyebrows in our book club rise "collectively." I'm sure you'll know just what I'm talking about when you read it.
I am not a history buff and barely remember this chapter in history being taught in school. Oh sure, I can vividly picture Mrs. Merckel with her blond curls and those oversized black rimmed glasses in my eighth-grade Social Studies class mention Mao Tse Tung (or Mao Zedong as he's now known). But after saying his name, things seem to go black. My brain flatlined. I do not recall any of the atrocities, the persecution, or even the cannibalism.
That's what I enjoy about historical fiction. As a kid history was not my favorite subject. I glazed over most history classes in school. Mainly I just remember having to memorize dates of significant wars which I quickly released from my mind. Historical fictions, however, bring the human aspects to life. The people become real, not just statistics. Historical fictions and memoirs push emotional buttons that a sterile history class just can't do.
Although this book was a sequel, occurrences in the first book were woven into the story, so the book can stand alone. I would recommend reading both, Shanghai Girls, then Dreams of Joy. Both are excellent. Both got thumbs up from my book club. Read other reviews at http://readinginthegarden.blogspot.com
I've read all of Lisa See's other novels, and I have to say this is the one I enjoyed the least. It has a very slow beginning and I struggled to get through the first 100 pages or so. (I only stuck with it because I liked Shanghai Girls so much and wanted to find out what happened to these characters.) Further along, the plot got interesting and I actually enjoyed the remainder of the book. I do not recommend this book to anyone who hasn't really read Shanghai Girls.