Dreams of Joy by Lisa See
You don’t have to read Shanghai Girls to appreciate See’s latest book, but it certainly helps since this is a direct sequel taking place IMMEDIATELY after Shanghai Girls ends. This is the story of Joy, an idealistic and naïve nineteen year old who decides to go to China to find her biological father. It is also the story of Pearl, her mother, who follows her daughter to China. If the story took place today it would be complicated enough, but in the book it is 1957 and Joy has just entered Mao’s China.
Seeing Mao’s communes and the transformation of the city of Shanghai is startling. I knew that things under Mao were bad; I just was unaware of how bad. Mao’s unreasonable demands on the communes (fertilizing the fields with crushed glass, seeding ten times the normal amount, competitions for harvest times) caused the great famines that killed up to 45 million people. You get a great understanding of why there wasn’t an uprising of the people, it’s hard to rebel when you are dying of starvation.
Narrated in the first person by both Joy and Pearl you get great insights into these two characters and get to see the transformation of Joy into a woman and the love Pearl has for her wayward daughter.