Top critical review
I missed the poetry of See's other books
Reviewed in the United States on March 19, 2013
The ending of Shanghai Girls left me wanting more so it was with relief I found See had written a sequel. I immediately ordered a copy of Dreams of Joy. And just as quickly, I found the story of the headstrong Joy who throws herself at the feet of her real father, an artist still living in Shanghai lacking in the poetry I loved about See's writing in Peony in Love and Shanghai Girls.
See researched both books extensively, but I could not warm up to the character of Joy. Pearl follows her to China, and it is the story of Pearl, who sacrifices everything to return to her homeland to chase after Joy. Her love and devotion moved me because her actions are unselfish and motivated by love. Joy reacts to life's events without thought of anything but herself. As a result, she ends up in a loveless marriage of her own choosing. In the end, the love of Pearl rescues her.
I grew tired of reading the endless scenes of poverty and starvation and cruelty and deprivation. I feel selfish even writing that sentence because these conditions did and do exist for those living under dictatorships couched under euphemisms of social reform and power to the people. Perhaps that was See's intent with this book - to make the reading of it as intolerable as the conditions she repeatedly shows.
Even though I didn't enjoy Dreams of Joy as much as her other novels, I give praise to See for writing such detailed accounts of historical events that must be remembered lest we forget, and worse, repeat. Novels that entertain and inform stand a chance of making a difference, and I don't fault her for doing that in both of these books.
I just wanted to be swept away by both, and that didn't happen with the sequel.