I just finished Dreams of Joy, by Lisa See. I loved her first two books—Snowflower and the Secret Fan and Peony in Love—but I was not as excited about her last title, Shanghai Girls. So when the first few pages of Dreams of Joy clued me in to the fact that this is a sequel to Shanghai Girls, my enthusiasm waned a bit.
The ending of Shanghai Girls was a bit abrupt (now I get it), so it was nice to follow the characters on further journeys. The story takes place in China sometime between 1958 and 1962, in the period known as The Great Leap Forward, a communist experiment in extreme communal living that resulted in millions of deaths. Getting the characters in place so See could depict the horrors of The Great Leap Forward under Mao Tse Tung was a stretch, but once the characters were there I was mesmerized.
There is less mysticism in Dreams of Joy than in Snowflower and Peony, but it was replaced in this novel by an attempt to immerse the reader in an extreme time in history. The dire and horrifying conditions and the choices people had to make are sometimes difficult to absorb. Parts of the plot are practically unbelievable, but they serve as the backdrop to showcase important cultural events.