If my mother would have read this book, firstly, she would scoff at Joy for being an ignorant fool and then latched her eyes onto me sternly saying, “See, this is what happens when you do not listen to your mother!” But then, if we do listen to our mothers all the time, how would we craft our own experiences, crash down in our mistakes and strive for success in our own astute ways. Joy was restless, enthusiastic and an erratic teen who like many other adolescent Chinese immigrants romanticized Mao’s ideology as a mere spectator from the other side of the fence. Only if Joy was a little tolerant to her mother’s woes or more educated on Mao’s New China, life could have had been less turbulent and death would not lurk on her doorstep.
Shanghai Girls (the prequel to this novel) ends on a somewhat bitter note with Joy finding out the truth about her parental lineage and Pearl’s husband committing suicide with its guilt embedded deep down in Joy’s heart. Life in Los Angeles’ Chinatown was even more confusing and undesirable , when Joy finds out that Pearl is not her biological mother and her father may be residing in China in all its likelihood. A rambunctious Joy eventually flees from her home and ends up in China where she meets Z.G. (her biological father) and with him she travels through the countryside as an apprentice to Z.G’s cultural painting lessons as a part of a system carved by Mao to induce liberal arts to ordinary Chinese folks. During, one such excursion, Joy meets an illiterate village bumpkin Tao and then in a juvenile aggression of love marries him. Still highly oblivious to the discrepancies of governing functions in mainland China and the countryside authorities, Joy finds herself on the centre stage playing a chaotic part in Mao’s economical sputnik –‘The Great Leap Forward’; banishing all the idealistic aspect of communism that Joy once nourished as a college student in Chicago.
I have read Frank Dikötter’s commendable book on ‘The Great Leap Forward’ and the curse that followed Mao’s economic revolution. The famine that struck the core of China’s agricultural composition brought in vast number of diseases, unimaginable suffrage through hunger and death loomed in every household. Lisa justly elucidates this tragedy that caused nearly 60 million deaths, highlighting the cannibalistic measures adopted by the famished farmers where infants were swapped by neighboring families for maintaining lack of guilt when the babies would be used as meal options. Excelling on her forte of Chinese women and their battles with the conventional norms ; Lisa See once again precisely highlights the second class treatment bestowed on Chinese women regardless the cultural progress.
Joy’s journey through the two parallel worlds illuminates her ferocious personality as she was born in the Year of the Tiger; just like Pearl was meant to be a Dragon of great strength and clemency. Unlike in the earlier volume, the narration is spilt through the words of Pearl and Joy herself; revealing Pearl’s apprehension in seeking happiness while letting go of her traumatic past and Joy’s realization of her true belonging through a harrowing present.
Lisa See illustrates the beginning of a liberating end of betrayals, trepidations, nightmarish chaos of self-identification and the hypocrisy that highlights in every edifying phase of survival. Lisa’s books are always a delight to read and have been applauded through my numerous comprehensions. Contrasting many reviews, this is not a “coming of age” story; it’s a passage of a young woman who chases happiness among revulsion realizing the rainbow that she gazed at was just a watery monochromatic painting of horror.
Moral of the story:- Listen to your mother, although not frequently. Otherwise you could miss out on some remarkable books.