Lisa See continues sisters' story with ’Dreams of Joy’

One of author Lisa See’s most popular books was her best-selling novel “Shanghai Girls.” The book contained a cliff-hanger ending that left readers wondering what happened to the beautiful sisters, Pearl and May.

All those questions and more are answered in See’s sequel, “Dreams of Joy.”

Pearl’s daughter, Joy, has found out that Pearl is not really her mother at all; her biological mother is her aunt May.

In a fit of anger, grief and confusion, Joy flees her comfortable home to journey to China, having been seduced by the tales she’s heard in college about the classless society, equality, and of how the communist Chinese are building a country for the people. She also is on a quest to find her biological father, a noted artist known as Z.G.

In the late 1950s, China was not a good place to be unless you were very affluent or well connected politically. But looking through rose-colored glasses, Joy is fascinated by what she sees. She finds her father with amazing ease, and he readily accepts that she is his daughter. He is leaving for a commune in the country, and so takes her along, not realizing that Pearl has also traveled to China to find her daughter.

Joy is enchanted by the Green Dragon community. She and her father are housed in an old villa rather than a hut. Everyone is well-fed. Her father is teaching art to the peasants. Joy finds happiness in the physical labor she does in the fields and the camaraderie.

Joy meets a young man, Tao, who has some artistic talent but is the poorest of the poor. It’s not until after Joy and Tao are married — over the protests of both Z.G. and Pearl — that she realizes how bad the situation is and her idealism caves.

They all are captive of the communist plan known as “The Great Leap Forward” and are witness to the devastating famine that occurs as a result of the rapid move to industrialization. They soon realize that something needs to be done and daring plans are hatched by Joy, Pearl and Z.G.

See tells this fascinating story through the voices of Joy and Pearl, creating a good balance between the recklessness of the young girl pitching headlong into disaster and the maturity of the older woman quietly working to solve things. This poignant tale incorporate history, romance, and the relationship between mother and daughter, and See masterfully intertwines all to present a graphic but touching look at the lengths to which people will go for love.