Dreams of Joy

Dreams of Joy

by Lisa See


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#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • “Astonishing . . . one of those hard-to-put-down-until-four-in-the morning books . . . a story with characters who enter a reader’s life, take up residence, and illuminate the myriad decisions and stories that make up human history.”—Los Angeles Times

In her most powerful novel yet, acclaimed author Lisa See returns to the story of sisters Pearl and May from Shanghai Girls, and Pearl’s strong-willed nineteen-year-old daughter, Joy. Reeling from newly uncovered family secrets, 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.

Praise for Dreams of Joy

“[Lisa] See is a gifted historical novelist. . . . The real love story, the one that’s artfully shown, is between mother and daughter, and aunt and daughter, as both of the women who had a part in making Joy return to China come to her rescue. . . . [In Dreams of Joy,] there are no clear heroes or villains, just people who often take wrong turns to their own detriment but for the good of the story, leading to greater strength of character and more durable relationships.”San Francisco Chronicle

“A heartwarming story of heroic love between a mother and daughter . . . No writer has better captured the voice and heart of Chinese culture.”Bookreporter

“Once again, See’s research feels impeccable, and she has created an authentic, visually arresting world.”The Washington Post

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780812980547
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 02/07/2012
Pages: 400
Sales rank: 121,580
Product dimensions: 8.02(w) x 5.24(h) x 0.86(d)

About the Author

Lisa See is the New York Times bestselling author of Shanghai Girls, Peony in Love, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, Flower Net (an Edgar Award nominee), The Interior, and Dragon Bones, as well as the critically acclaimed memoir On Gold Mountain. The Organization of Chinese American Women named her the 2001 National Woman of the Year. She lives in Los Angeles.


Los Angeles, California

Date of Birth:

February 18, 1955

Place of Birth:

Paris, France


B.A., Loyola Marymount University, 1979

Read an Excerpt

THE WAIL OF a police siren in the distance tears through my body. Crickets whir in a never- ending chorus of blame. My aunt whimpers in her twin bed at the other end of the screened porch we share— a reminder of the misery and embarrassment from the secrets she and my mother threw at each other during their argument tonight. I try to listen for my mother in her room, but she’s too far away. That silence is painful. My hands grab the bedsheets, and I struggle to focus on an old crack in the ceiling. I’m desperately attempting to hang on, but I’ve been on a precipice since my father’s death, and now I feel as though I’ve been pushed over the edge and am falling.

Everything I thought I knew about my birth, my parents, my grandparents, and who I am has been a lie. A big fat lie. The woman I thought was my mother is my aunt. My aunt is actually my mother. The man I loved as my father was not related to me at all. My real father is an artist in Shanghai whom both my mother and aunt have loved since before I was born. And that’s only the tip of the iceberg— as Auntie May might say. But I was born in the Year of the Tiger, so before the gnawing blackness of guilt about my dad’s death and the anguish I feel about these revelations overpower me, I grip the sheets tighter, set my jaw, and try to force my emotions to cower and shrink before my Tiger ferocity. It doesn’t work.

I wish I could talk to my friend Hazel, but it’s the middle of the night. I wish even more that I could be back at the University of Chicago, because my boyfriend, Joe, would understand what I’m going through. I know he would.

It’s two in the morning by the time my aunt drifts off to sleep and the house seems quiet. I get up and go to the hall, where my clothes are kept in a linen closet. Now I can hear my mother weeping, and it’s heartbreaking. She can’t imagine what I’m about to do, but even if she did, would she stop me? I’m not her daughter.

Why should she stop me? I quickly pack a bag. I’ll need money for where I’m going, and the only place I know to get it will bring me more disgrace and shame. I hurry to the kitchen, look under the sink, and pull out the coffee can that holds my mother’s savings to put me through college. This money represents all her hopes and dreams for me, but I’m not that person anymore. She’s always been cautious, and for once I’m grateful. Her fear of banks and Americans will fund my escape.

I look for paper and a pencil, sit down at the kitchen table, and scrawl a note.

Mom, I don’t know who I am anymore. I don’t understand this country anymore.

I hate that it killed Dad. I know you’ll think I’m confused and foolish. Maybe I am, but I have to find answers. Maybe China is my real home . . .

I go on to write that I mean to find my real father and that she shouldn’t worry about me. I fold the paper and take it to the porch. Auntie May doesn’t stir when I put the note on my pillow. At the front door, I hesitate. My invalid uncle is in his bedroom at the back of the house. He’s never done anything to me. I should tell him good- bye, but I know what he’ll say. “Communists are no good. They’ll kill you.”

I don’t need to hear that, and I don’t want him to alert my mother and aunt that I’m leaving.

I pick up my suitcase and step into the night. At the corner, I turn down Alpine Street, and head for Union Station. It’s August 23, 1957, and I want to memorize everything because I doubt I’ll ever see Los Angeles Chinatown again. I used to love to stroll these streets, and I know them better than anyplace else in the world. Here, I know everyone and everyone knows me. The houses— almost all of them clapboard bungalows— have been what I call Chinafied, with bamboo planted in the gardens, pots with miniature kumquat trees sitting on porches, and wooden planks laid on the ground on which to spread leftover rice for birds. I look at it all differently now. Nine months at college— and the events of tonight— will do that. I learned and did so much at the University of Chicago during my freshman year. I met Joe and joined the Chinese Students Democratic Christian Association. I learned all about the People’s Republic of China and what Chairman Mao is doing for the country, all of which contradicts everything my family believes. So when I came home in June, what did I do? I criticized my father for seeming as if he were fresh off the boat, for the greasy food he cooked in his café, and for the dumb TV shows he liked to watch
These memories trigger a dialogue in my head that I’ve been having since his death. Why didn’t I see what my parents were going through? I didn’t know that my father was a paper son and that he’d come to this country illegally. If I’d known, I never would have begged my dad to confess to the FBI— as if he didn’t have anything to hide. My mother holds Auntie May responsible for what happened, but she’s wrong. Even Auntie May thinks it was her fault. “When the FBI agent came to Chinatown,” she confessed to me on the porch only a few hours ago, “I talked to him about Sam.” But Agent Sanders never really cared about my dad’s legal status, because the first thing he asked about was me.

And then the loop of guilt and sorrow tightens even more. How could I have known that the FBI considered the group I joined a front for Communist activities?

We picketed stores that wouldn’t allow Negroes to work or sit at the lunch counter.

We talked about how the United States had interned American citizens of Japanese descent during the war. How could those things make me a Communist? But they did in the eyes of the FBI, which is why that awful agent told my dad he’d be cleared if he ratted out anyone he thought was a Communist or a Communist sympathizer.

If I hadn’t joined the Chinese Students Democratic Christian Association, the FBI couldn’t have used that to push my father to name others— specifically me. My dad never would have turned me in, leaving him only one choice. As long as I live I will never forget the sight of my mother holding my father’s legs in a hopeless attempt to take his weight off the rope around his neck, and I will never ever forgive myself for my role in his suicide.

Reading Group Guide

1. Joy is frequently described in terms of her Tiger astrological sign. In Dreams of Joy, where do you see her acting true to her Tiger nature? Where do you see her acting un-Tiger-like?

2. Many of us grew up believing that the People’s Republic of China was “closed,” and that it remained that way until President Nixon “opened” it. Certainly Pearl (and even Joy, to a great extent) go to China with preconceived ideas of what they’ll see and experience. In what ways are they right—or wrong?

3. Does seeing the world through Joy’s eyes help you to understand Pearl? Similarly, does Pearl give insights into her daughter?

4. The novel’s title, Dreams of Joy, has many meanings. What does the phrase mean to the different characters in the novel? To Lisa? To the reader?

5. In many ways Dreams of Joy is a traditional coming-of-age novel for Joy. Lisa has said that she believes it’s also a coming-of-age novel for Pearl and May. Do you agree? If so, how do these three characters grow up? Do they find their happy endings?

6. Although May plays a key role in Dreams of Joy, she is always off stage. How do you feel about this? Would you rather have May be an onstage figure in this novel?

7. Pearl has some pretty strong views about motherhood. At one point she asks, “What tactic do we, as mothers, use with our children when we know they’re going to make, or have already made, a terrible mistake? We accept blame” (page 139). Later, she observes, “Like all mothers, I needed to hide my sadness, anger, and grief ” (page 177). Do you agree with her? Does her attitude about mothering change during the course of the novel?

8. Joy’s initial perception of China is largely a projection of her youthful idealism. What are the key scenes that force her to adjust her beliefs and her feelings in this regard?

9. Describe the roles that Tao, Ta-ming, Kumei, and Yong play in Dreams of Joy. Why are they so important, thematically, to the novel?

10. Food—or the severe lack of it—are of critical importance in Dreams of Joy. How does food affect Joy’s growth as a person? Pearl’s?

11. Let’s consider the men—whether present in the novel as living characters or not—for a moment. What influence do Sam, Z.G., Pearl’s father, Dun, and Tao have on the story? How do they show men at their best and worst? Are any of these characters completely good—or completely bad?

12. Dreams of Joy is largely a novel about mothers and daughters, but it’s also about fathers and daughters. How do Joy’s feelings toward Sam and Z.G. change over the course of the novel? Does Pearl’s attitude toward her father change in any way?

13. There are several moments in the novel when people have to choose the moral or ethical thing to do. Where are those places? What purpose do they play? And why do you think Lisa choose to write them?

14. Z.G. quotes a seventeenth-century artist when he says, “Art is the heartbeat of the artist.” How has this idea influenced his life? What impact does this concept have on Joy?

15. Ultimately, Dreams of Joy is about “mother love”—the love that Pearl feels for Joy, Joy feels for her mother, Joy experiences with the birth of her daughter, and the ongoing struggle between Pearl and May over who is Joy’s true mother. In what ways do secrets, disappointments, fears, and overwhelming love affect mother love in the story?

Customer Reviews

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Dreams of Joy 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 500 reviews.
BabsBonMots More than 1 year ago
Goodreads, you are spoiling me for anything other than reading! I had no intentions of whiling away the day by reading a book, but I received my recent win, "Dreams of Joy" on Thursday, started reading Saturday morning and couldn't stop. I have read Lisa See's other books ("Snowflower and the Secret Fan", "Peony in Love", "Shanghi Girls") so was very pleased to score this win. "Dreams of Joy" is a continuation of the "Shanghi Girls" story--in some ways I wish I had re-read "Shanghi Girls" before I started "Dreams of Joy", just so that I could refresh the characters in my head. "Dreams" is the story of Joy, Pearl's daughter. (This is hard, I don't want to spoil the story by sharing too much.) Basically, Joy finds out some family secrets and leaves her home (America) and goes to China, where she buys into the communist philosophy. Along the way she loses her naivety, falls in love, meets her father, learns that she is a strong person, as well as to appreciate her family. Basically she grows up. Meanwhile her mom (Pearl) follows her to China and learns some things about her ownself, her relationship with her sister, as well as her daughter. Really liked this book. As in See's other books, you will learn about Chinese culture and history. In this book, there are several characters with bound feet. With the onset of communism, women were discouraged from this practice. In fact, those who had bound feet were encouraged to unbind them, which turns out to be a painstaking process with less than ideal results. Although the feet will unfurl, they cannot be "normal" since the bones were broken in the binding process when they were young. In the afterward the author mentions the photos of Joseph Rupp and his bound feet project. It was interesting to read the stories of these women, who just accepted this rite of passage as necessary to getting a husband, as well as to see their photos. I'd post the website for you to check out, but this site doesn't allow - so, do a search for Rupp Bound Feet Project if you'd like to learn more. Highly recommend this book!
theReader278 More than 1 year ago
I loved reading this wonderful book! Excellent for a hot summer day!
-JACKI- More than 1 year ago
DREAMS OF JOY begins where SHANGHAI GIRLS left off, right after Joy, (19 years old), finds out that May gave birth to her. After the fight, Joy, a student at the University of Chicago, decides to leave her university education behind and move to China. Soon after arriving in Shanghai, Joy finds her biological father, a well-known artist, who after the shock that he'd fathered a child with May. The author does a wonderful job placing this intriguing family saga in the middle of Mao's "New China" with a balance of bringing the atrocities to light without over powering the family storyline. There is a great lesson in human nature that love, loyalty and perseverance can triumph and survive world unrest. Stunning realism and completely believable characters make this book a hit!
ceejai More than 1 year ago
The last book, "Shanghai Girls", has lived in my mind for nearly a year now. It was one of those rare books that I didn't want to see end and couldn't put down. The characters were both supremely tragic and yet somehow triumphant; the era and situations very thought provoking. Now, I'll be able to see how the saga continues - yea!! Definately recommend reading the earlier book first simply for context.
Psychomom02 More than 1 year ago
This is my first time reading a book from this author and it is a must read..I always read the reviews before i read the editorial reviews and i knew i would like but i LOVED it....Lisa See detailed descriptions of people,places and chacteristics transports you to the same places as her characters. I absolutely could not put this book down. The book is about two sisters that are different in many ways but the same. Lisa tells the story of how Pearl and May go from loving their sheltered,rich and fulfilled life in Shanghai and living as "beautiful girls" (models for advertisements) to poor plain average chinese girls that had to escape their home in Shanghai to go to America to live..Pearl and May was everything a traditional chinese daughter was not..they had dreams,aspirations,goals and they didn't believe in old chinese traditions..but their fate changed for worse not by their own doing but by their father to settle his debts. Their lives took a turn for the worst in the worst way..I can go on and on about this book but i want you to get the entire jest of it..the author is great about educating you on the chinese culture,beliefs and traditions and also language..you can even learn a few words in shanghainese..overall it's a great book,i couldn't put it down and i can't wait until dreams of joy is out so i can dive into that one as well..Well happy reading until next time.
Jane_Austen09 More than 1 year ago
In "Dreams of Joy", See beautifully rounds the circle she began in "Shanghai Girls." In fact, one can argue that you can't really understand "Shanghai Girls" completely on a first reading because the sequel brings a two dimensional perspective to its predecessor. See organizes her new novel in four sections -- The Tiger Leaps, The Rabbit Dodges, The Dog Grins, and The Dragon Rises. As in her previous work, it's fascinating to see how her main characters act against the background of their astrological signs. Joy's guilt-ridden journey to China to find her father and Pearl's loving pursuit are placed in the context of the tumult and suffering of Mao's China -- especially with regard to the horrific famine by Mao's misguided Great Leap Forward. Yet despite the extreme suffering around them, Pearl, Joy, Z.G., and May are able to find joy and to heal many of the pains of the past. I heartily recommend this novel. In bringing joy to her main characters, See brings abundant joy to her readers as well.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A bit wary because of some of the reviews, I hesitated in purchasing this book, however after reading it I'm glad I bought it. To be able to be reintroduced to Pearl, May and Joy and to see how life progressed for them was great. Filled with vivid descriptions of China with language that is neither simplistic or overstated, Dreams of Joy is yet another wonderful novel by this great author.
bookworm919 More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed this book. I recommend reading Shangia Girls first. This book had great character development. I learned a lot. Parts were diffult to read but it was worth it.
catmama3 More than 1 year ago
I first read another of Lisa See's books, "On Gold Mountain". I found this book about See's family fascinating and decided to read more. I ended up reading all of See's books. Dreams of Joy completes the story of the two girls in "Shanghai Girls". The story keeps you wondering what is going to happen and how things are going to turn out. It was well researched and written.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
this book won't make much sense unless you've read Shanghai Girls first. All the characters originate there and this is a good sequel.
toujours More than 1 year ago
Beyond the plot and the various interesting characters, I was fascinated by what, in the end, is a barely disguised description—and criticism—of Mao’s disastrous Great leap Forward, and of chinese culture in general.
beh88 More than 1 year ago
hard to get into but once i did, i couldn put it down... i was totally ignorant regarding China during this era....wow are we lucky to live in the usa
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I have never read a more powerful book. The history amazed and horrified me. The charactors felt so real. I wish there was anouther book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Just as the first book in this series, a fast reader because of it woven historical events within this families's lives. The strength within comes out when you most need it to survive. Have already looked up other Lisa See books and have added them to my must read list!
samcivy More than 1 year ago
Dreams of Joy Lisa See © 2011 (author of Shanghai Girls) Random House Trade Paperbacks ISBN 978-0-8129-8054-7 349 pp. plus photos and discussion questions After the death of her husband, Sam, Pearl and her sister May (characters in Shanghai Girls) quarrel and reveal family secrets to their daughter, Joy. (Yes, she’s both women’s daughter.) Joy has been influenced in college by tales of how wonderful Communism is in China, so she runs away to Shanghai to find her birth father and help build the ‘new China’. Pearl realizes the dangers for Joy so follows her to China, sneaking in through Hong Kong. She learns that Joy found her birth father, ZG, but doesn’t see them for months. Joy doesn’t realize their sojourn in a small Chinese village is government punishment for ZG, a famous artist. Joy also falls in love with a peasant boy, Tao, not really understanding the culture and disastrous life in China during Mao’s rule. The story brings alive Chinese life during early communism, with a host of characters we can relate to. Naturally, as with any well-written tale, complications set in for everyone. The resolution is surprising, but satisfying and suggests a sequel for May and ZG, plus Pearl and another man, Dun.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great read! I couldn't put it down because I wanted to find out what happens next. The writing flows easily and being Chinese American, it makes sense the way Lisa writes from a Chinese perspective. The way she composes the sentences and uses Chinese words, they are familiar and really adds to the storyline. I hope there's a next book and I can't wait!
Book_Sniffers_Anonymous More than 1 year ago
When Joy finds out that the people she has called Mother and Father all her life are really her Aunt and Uncle and her Aunt is really her biological mother and her father is still in China, Joy is obviously upset. She runs away to China to find her birth father and to help rebuild the new China. Only, when she gets there things aren't really what she thought they would be. I liked Shanghai Girls and was really interested when this book came out. You have to read Shanghai Girls in order to pick up on a lot of what has happened. Otherwise you won't understand the reasoning behind why Pearl acts the way she does towards China, Z.G (Joy's father) or May. There are some references to the last book and even though I read it, it was so long ago that some parts took me a minute to catch up on. This story is split between Joy and Pearl. After all, Pearl takes off after Joy to China and tries to bring her home. She goes back to her old family house which is now run down and grimy and waits until she can find Joy. Meanwhile Joy is out traveling the country with her father who is an artist, painting, having an adventure and is totally oblivious to the dangers around her. This a captivating story about a mother's love for her child and the depths that you will go to to protect them. I enjoyed this story quite a bit and even though Joy annoyed me through the majority of the book by how naive she was being, the second things clicked for her, you started to see the woman that she will become.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Lisa See’s Dreams of Joy is a follow up to her prior novel, Shanghai Girls. Ms. See is an accomplished novelist and her writing skills incontestably appear in Dreams of Joy. It’s a spellbinding story about youthful Joy returning to communist China and her stepmother, Pearl, purses her in an attempt to rescue her. Joy and Pearl are molded into heroines by overcoming awesome trails and difficulties. The novel has many impressive features. One outstanding quality is the accuracy of the historical setting that reinforces the authenticity of the interactions amongst the characters. Undoubtedly Ms. See did extensive research before writing the novel. The story accurately reveals how people struggled during a tragic period in modern China.
triviakat More than 1 year ago
I read "Dreams of Joy" before "Shanghai Girls" as I didn't realize it was the sequel. I do recommend reading SG first. There is so much depth to the lives of Joy, Pearl and May and uncovering the layers is a large part of what makes these novels so real. I had too much information when I read SG and feel I missed out on some of the natural progression of their relationships. That said, reading "Dreams of Joy" first allowed me to see that it is an excellent book in it's own right. It does not need "Shanghai Girls" to fall back on, though "Shanghai Girls" does give an enormous amount of background. As I read it, Joy was a strong and determined young woman, misguided by pain, confusion and innocence. I reread the beginning of "Dreams of Joy" just after finishing "Shanghai Girls" and realized I had a very different idea of who Joy is - I found her more of a willful, naive girl overall who, when wounded, struck out by making impulsive decisions with no thought or knowledge of how life changing they would be for her and those around her. Once again, I am impressed by See's commitment to research and her ability to make history come alive through her fictional characters.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I highly recommend the whole series by this author. As a former history teacher, I love the way she reveals the history of China, through the eyes of the women in this family. You should read Snow Flower and the Secret Fan first. That introduces you to the culture and the reality of the little value placed on females. From there you go to Peony in Love, which continues with the lives of the women in Snow Flower. You learn about foot binding and ancestor ceremonies and more. The family line is followed in Shanghi Girls and that covers the cultural revolution in China. Now you are prepared to read Dreams of Joy. .....it's a good enough story to stand alone, but I strongly recommend you read the whole series in chronological order.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed this even though some might describe it as a "chick" book - and I am not a chick. I couldn't put it down, captivated by the characters and the storyline. It helped that I had recently taken a class on Chinese history so the descriptions of events and the author's technique of weaving the story around major historical events was excellent. I will be looking at the author's other offerings as a result of reading Shanghai Girls and Dreams of Joy. One warning: it truly is a sequel so everyone should read Shanghai Girls first.
Laohu More than 1 year ago
This is a heckuva story. Even if you know something about Mao's China and the Great Leap Forward, this will make it real for you. A fantastic follow-on to her "Shanghai Girls". Lisa See shows her skill as a storyteller and researcher. I can't believe she's not actually Chinese, for she writes like one! She gives Amy Tan and Anchee Min a run for their money.
aunie More than 1 year ago
This book was even better than the last! I really enjoyed the wonderful descriptions of emotions in the characters. I felt like I was truly transported to the time and place. Definitely felt all the suffering, happiness, and love the characters were feeling. I was moved and feel like I learned a bit about history and chinese culture. A superb read!
BookHounds More than 1 year ago
The story of May and Pearl continues through their daughter, Joy. After just escaping the Japanese invasion of China, they must now save Joy from the communist revolution in China. Joy is living the American Dream and while away in college becomes part of a communist revolutionary movement that is taking place on her campus. She is encourage to return to her mother's homeland and help with the revolution, so she leaves her family in a fit of anger and begins a search for her roots. This leads her to discover that her mother and aunt haven't been completely honest with her or themselves. This one took me a while to get through and reflect upon. I never imagined the true horror of exactly what happened during China's Great Leap Forward or the toll it took on the people living during this time and from what I read about is still occurring somewhat today. I think anyone who grew up during the 50's-60's heard someone say "Eat your dinner, there are people starving in China" and this story illustrates just how true that was. This one was a bit hard to digest since the story is not a typical one of self discovery but one of just how difficult immigration and escaping the horrors of a homeland that is in turmoil
rtpana More than 1 year ago
This book was interesting because it does not hold back on the harsh reality of the brutality that was endured by the Chinese people under Mao. Some of the scenarios were unrealistic but the over-all effect was positive. A good, fast read beach book that leaves you with some understanding of another time and culture. I will continue to read Lisa See's books.