Before reading Lisa See’s Dreams of Joy, I strongly recommend starting with its prequel, Shanghai Girls, which helps one to fully understand the extent of a mother’s love and sacrifice.
Dreams of Joy is set in China where nineteen-year-old Joy flees to in order to find her biological father, a famous Chinese artist, as well as to atone for her causing the death of the father who raised her. Her mother, Pearl, rushes over there, hoping to bring her daughter back home to L.A., where she was born and grew up, where she belongs. Pearl stayed away from her native land for the past twenty years, and now she sees many drastic changes for the worse.
Joy, on the other hand, is filled with idealistic views of Mao’s communist society of social equality and overall happiness, fed to her by her university friends. So she is eager to be part of “rebuilding the country.” She considers China, the country she’s never been to before, her true home.
The girl is shocked by the discrepancy between the slogans and reality right away. The inequality between the haves and haves-not is quite obvious: whereas the “important” people, like her father and the Party members holding high positions, entertain themselves with banquets with abundant delicious meals and live music, the rest of the population work long days and have rationed food. But, although she admits that enjoying a good life is “a betrayal of her ideals,” she doesn’t feel guilty, explaining it by her wish to “know more about China.”
Joy realizes her mistake almost too late.
Not to ruin it for those who hasn’t read the novel yet, I’ll just say that Lisa See describes the situation in Red China masterfully. The depiction of Mao’s dangerous policies and their disastrous results is so detailed I had goose bumps while reading it. The so-called “great leader” was so hell-bent on imitating China’s “big brother,” the Soviet Union–in all spheres of life, that he even “copied” the Russian famines of 1921 and 1932 that had killed millions.
I highly recommend this wonderful sequel to Shanghai Girls.