Synopses & Reviews
#1 New York Times
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.
"[Lisa] See is a gifted historical novelist....The real love story, the one that's artfully shown, is between mother and daughter, and aunt and daughter, as both of the women who had a part in making Joy return [come] to her rescue....[In Dreams of Joy,] there are no clear heroes or villains, just people who often take wrong turns to their own detriment but for the good of the story, leading to greater strength of character and more durable relationships." San Francisco Chronicle
"A heartwarming story of heroic love between a mother and daughter....No writer has better captured the voice and heart of Chinese culture." Bookreporter.com
"Once again, See's research feels impeccable, and she has created an authentic, visually arresting world." The Washington Post
"Excellent...[Dreams of Joy] lives up to its predecessor's magic." The Dallas Morning News
"[Lisa] See's fans will be glad to read more about Pearl, May and Joy, and See's recurring themes of unbreakable family bonds and strong-willed women." The Oregonian
"[See's] prose rings like a temple bell." Los Angeles magazine
"A vivid, haunting, and often graphic portrait of a country, and a family, in crisis." Booklist
"See keeps her eyes focused on the women — their standing, their predicaments, their resourcefulness." The Seattle Times
"See's many readers will be pleased to see the continued development of Pearl and May's relationship....[She] creates an immersive atmosphere." Publishers Weekly (starred review)
"Riveting, meticulously researched." Kirkus Reviews
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.
Reading Group Guide
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 onstage 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” (page 139). Later, she observes, “Like all mothers, I needed to hide my sadness, anger, and grief ” (page 177). 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 her 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 the 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 completely 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 toward 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 seventeenth-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 that Pearl feels for Joy, Joy feels for her mother, Joy experiences with the birth of her daughter, and the ongoing struggle between Pearl and May over who is Joy’s true mother. In what ways do secrets, disappointments, fears, and overwhelming love affect mother love in the story?