As soon as I heard that Lisa See had a new novel coming out this summer, I knew I had to read it. I'm a big fan after reading several of her other novels. Lisa See combines history with dramatic and sometimes heart wrenching stories about Chinese women. I was repulsed and fascinated by the horrid details of feet binding in her novel Snow Flower and the Secret Fan; terrified as Pearl and May run from the Japanese soldiers attacking their city in Shanghai Girls and engrossed in the plight of Joy as communists take over China in Dreams of Joy.
In China Dolls, Lisa See weaves the story of three friends who work in the China Town entertainment business in San Francisco during the late 1930's and through the 1940's. Filled with jealousies, shifting loyalties and secrets, Grace, Ruby and Helen attempt to climb the ladder to fame and stardom by dancing in the glamorous Forbidden City nightclub. The world's turmoil will catch them all after the Japanese attack Pearl Harbor. Men are shipped out to fight. Fear and suspicion grip the nation and especially the vulnerable West Coast. Secrets are betrayed and friendships are threatened.
China Dolls is as dramatic and mesmerizing as Lisa See's previous novels. I was enraptured by the glamour and flashiness of show business.
Grace, Ruby and Helen each become fascinating, ambitious and rich characters, fueled by a variety of ulterior motives and secrets. Hatred and prejudice are bubbling near the surface and threaten to explode after the attack in Hawaii leaves everyone scared and wary. See builds the drama and the emotion with the skill of an experienced writer.
The history is once again emotionally moving. I was already aware of the injustices of the Japanese Internment camps in the west during World War II (I have read The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet and Snow Falling on Cedars after all) and I knew that there was a camp in Utah. However, after reading of the Topaz Internment camp, I realized just how close it is to my home and after some research discovered that there is a museum there now. I feel like I better plan a road trip. While the fear and horrors of World War II affected nearly everyone, I appreciated how Lee shows the uniqueness of the experience for Americans of Chinese and Japanese descent.
China Dolls by Lisa See is a colorful and compelling novel. Don't miss it this summer.
**I received a complimentary copy of China Dolls in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own. No additional compensation was received.**