Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

China Dolls by Lisa See (2014)

China Dolls is the fifth novel by Lisa See I have read.  Obviously if I did not really enjoy reading her historical novels I would not have read so many.  I have read Shangai Girls, Peony in Love, Snow Flower and The Secret Fan and Dreams of Joy.  See has had numerous books on The New York Times Best Seller List and I will be surprised if China Dolls does not also become a best seller.  

China Dolls begins in 1938 in a small town in Ohio. American is just coming out of a ten year economic depression.    Like all her work I have read, the central characters are mostly Chinese women emigrants to the USA and their children.  The story is told from three different points of view.  

Grace is a small town girl from Ohio, born in America.  Her father, he runs a laundry, has beaten and verbally abused her for years.  At eighteen she gets up the courage to leave and buys a bus ticket to San Francisco.  She had seen a notice in the newspaper about thousands of jobs available at an international exposition there and she hoped her talent as a dancer would help her find employment.   She meets two other young women, Helen and Ruby.  Both are harboring secrets.  Helen is a child from a well off very traditional family.  Her father got her a job as a telephone company operator.  Ruby's past is a bit shady and she is the most worldly of the three.  After meeting they all get jobs working as performers in a Chinese nightclub in San Francisco.  The pay is good compared to other jobs.    Causasian men were fascinated by Asian women and there all sorts of such establishments in the city.  See has obviously done a lot of research on the Chinese night club and I learned a lot about this new to me area from the novel.  The women have their career ups and downs and their romances, good, bad and in between.    

When World War Two starts with the attack by the Japanese on Pearl Harbor.  The social changes brought on by this transform California and the women's lives.  In one small touch I  liked a lot, we see the sister in laws of Helen, up until now very home bound traditional wives, go to work in defense factories.  San Francisco is full of soldiers and sailors on leave who can't wait to spend their money on China Dolls (that was the name a nightclub owner gave to the girls act).  A paranoia against Japanese living in the US permeates society and we do learn a lot about this.  We see the racism the women are subject to and their own prejuduces against non-Chinese. 

The girls do make it pretty big time in show business.  I won't tell any more of the plot because it is so much fun to see what happens.  We do end up flashing forward to when the China Dolls are their seventies and that was such a great way to close the novel.

One of the best aspects of China Dolls was learning about the nature of the entertainment business in the Chinese Community nationwide in America.  

China Dolls is an emotional roller coaster with lots of fast rises and falls.  The women seem very real and I liked the alternative first person narration structure of the novel.

I think most fans of well crafted historical fiction will enjoy this book.  

Mel u

1 comment:

Mystica said...

An author I need to get to. Thank you for the review