International bestseller Lisa See will visit Iowa City this month to read from her latest novel Dreams of Joy. A sequel to Shanghai Girls (2009), Dream
s of Joy continues to trace the lineage of the Chin Family. It begins with life-changing revelations by the eponymous character: her Aunt May is in fact her mother. And the man who just committed suicide was not her biological father. Feeling betrayed and guilty (her involvement in civil rights organizations brought attention to Sam Louie’s illegal citizenship status, apparently contributing to his death) 19-year- old Joy sets out to China in a journey of self-discovery.
Soap operatic intrigue certainly pervades the novel. Joy is determined to find her biological father, and once she does she moves with him to a small village. Soon after she accepts the marriage proposal of a young farmer, Feng Tao. They have a kid, but their marriage goes awry. Meanwhile Pearl, Joy’s fake mother and actual aunt, follows Joy to China where she encounters hardships of her own. She returns to the house where she once lived, but can only take up residence as a boarder and earns a paltry living as a street sweeper. The year, by the way, is 1958. Both Joy and Pearl bear witness to the rack and ruin of the Great Leap Forward (China’s ill-planned collectivist economic campaign, resulting in casualties numbering between 18 and 30 million) – they narrate about famine, starvation, and violence. Thorough details of mid-century China give anyone interested in the time period impetus to read. Dreams of Joy, after all, is not only about Joy’s dreams, but the let-down dreams of a country.
Despite China going to the dogs, the Chin family endures. Joy and Pearl struggled, but by the end of the novel they are better for it, arriving at new inner strength and a closer familial bond. Lovers of happy endings will not be disappointed.
You can hear Lisa See read at Prairie Lights at 7 p.m on March 14th.