Wednesday, July 4, 2012


At the end of Shanghai Girls, Joy has left her home in Los Angeles, with her idealistic socialist beliefs in tow, to seek out her biological father in Communist China.  It's the 1950s, and her family fears for her safety.  Family, though, is partly what she is running away from.  Pearl, the woman who raised her but is really her aunt, follows Joy, knowing that neither she nor Joy may ever be allowed to leave China.  Before Pearl arrives in Shanghai, Joy takes off with her father, Z.G., to a collective farm.  At first, Joy finds confirmation for her ideology, as the commune is thriving and contented.  Then Mao's ambitious plan to increase output backfires, and the country is thrust into extreme famine.  Contrast the starvation with the sumptuous banquets for foreign dignitaries, and you have anything but an egalitarian society. The author paints a vivid and horrifying portrait of this period in Chinese history, but Joy's rescue and disillusionment with the Chinese government, not to mention her marriage to a peasant, are way too predictable.  I don't have a problem with neatly wrapped-up endings, but I would like for there to be a surprise somewhere along the way.  I had the feeling that this book was intended as a crowd pleaser for the author's loyal fans and thus found it a little disappointing.  In fact, I probably could have summarized the plot without reading a page.  One surprise at the end wasn't even that surprising.  Even so, there were enough harrowing near-misses to keep me pressing forward to find out how Pearl and Joy would find their way out.

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