Monday, October 8, 2012

Duo Review: Shanghai Girls and Dreams of Joy

I read both books shortly after each other, but the catch was that I read Dreams of Joy before Shanghai Girls because I didn't realize it was part of a series. it wasn't a real problem but I wanted to read Shanghai Girls anyway because I wanted to fill in some of the blanks that I missed. I will review them together because of my huge backlog and I thought it would be fun to change things around a bit.

Title: Shanghai Girls / Dreams of Joy
Author: Lisa See
Genre: Historical Fiction
Subject: Family, Chinese Culture
Publisher: Random House
Release date: May 2009 / May 2011
Length: 309 pages / 354 pages
I got this book: Got them both from the library

Summary Shanghai Girls:
From Goodreads:
"In 1937, Shanghai is the Paris of Asia, a city of great wealth and glamour, the home of millionaires and beggars, gangsters and gamblers, patriots and revolutionaries, artists and warlords. Thanks to the financial security and material comforts provided by their father’s prosperous rickshaw business, twenty-one-year-old Pearl Chin and her younger sister, May, are having the time of their lives. Though both sisters wave off authority and tradition, they couldn’t be more different: Pearl is a Dragon sign, strong and stubborn, while May is a true Sheep, adorable and placid. Both are beautiful, modern, and carefree . . . until the day their father tells them that he has gambled away their wealth and that in order to repay his debts he must sell the girls as wives to suitors who have traveled from California to find Chinese brides.

As Japanese bombs fall on their beloved city, Pearl and May set out on the journey of a lifetime, one that will take them through the Chinese countryside, in and out of the clutch of brutal soldiers, and across the Pacific to the shores of America. In Los Angeles they begin a fresh chapter, trying to find love with the strangers they have married, brushing against the seduction of Hollywood, and striving to embrace American life even as they fight against discrimination, brave Communist witch hunts, and find themselves hemmed in by Chinatown’s old ways and rules."

Personal opinion:
I thought this was a good book that gave away a lot of insight in China in those days. However because I have read Dreams of Joy first, I already knew the main plot line of this book and that did make it less compelling than if I had read them in the right order. Still I did enjoy to read the story in detail and I wasn't bored even though I knew a lot already. It were all the little details that made this book come alive, like you were there with them. But I do recommend to read this one first because it will make the experience even better.

Summary Dreams of Joy:
From Goodreads:
"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."

Personal opinion:
As with Shanghai Girls, this book is full of little details that makes the story come alive. But because I read this book first, this one drew me in much more. There are some serious hardships that Joy has to face and I almost can't believe it was like this in China not all that long ago. I guess that a lot of people that are as well off as here, can't wrap their heads around it. At least that was how it felt like for me. I liked the way things were wrapped up eventually, even though it was maybe a little too convinient. But still, it didn't felt too unrealistic either. Lisa See does a great job in telling a story that leaves a lasting impression. I wish they would offer history lessons in this way, because it surely would have stayed with me longer.

Purchase links: Shanghai Girls / Dreams of Joy
Challenges: What's in a name (Shanghai Girls)
Other reviews: She is too fond of Books, Popcorn Reads,
From the same author: Snow Flower and the Secret Fan
If you have reviewed one of these books and want your link here, please leave a comment with the link, and I will add it :)


  1. I haven't heard about these books before! Sound really good.

    1. Lisa See is a great author, I really like her books.