Written by Lisa See, this is a sequel to the novel Shanghai Girls, in which sisters Pearl and May flee war-torn China and escape to California and arranged marriages. In Dreams of Joy, Pearl’s daughter Joy learns the truth about her birth, kept secret by her mother and aunt for many years. She travels to Mao Tse-Tung’s Communist China, both to find her real father, an artist, and to support the revolution, a cause she naively supports since her year as a college student. Pearl follows close behind, yearning to save her daughter from danger and heartbreak.
The story is told from two points of view; that of mother and daughter. Each is determined to fight for what is believed to be right. Joy finds hardship, disillusionment and maternal love in her life in China; she settles in a rural area during a famine, in a loveless marriage, struggling to keep her infant daughter alive. Pearl learns to allow her daughter her independence; she renews old relationships and learns not to blame herself for her husband’s earlier suicide. How the two of them survived and managed to escape is an adventure in itself; the book’s greatest strengths are its multi-faceted characterization and emotional intensity.