Sunday, 5 October 2014

China Dolls
by Lisa See
Rating:  5/5

Pages: 448
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing
Publication Date: 2014
ISBN: 9781408853252

Summary (via Goodreads)

In 1938, Ruby, Helen and Grace, three girls from very different backgrounds, find themselves competing at the same audition for showgirl roles at San Francisco's exclusive ‘Oriental’ nightclub, the Forbidden City. Grace, an American born Chinese girl has fled the Midwest and an abusive father. Helen is from a Chinese family who have deep roots in San Francisco’s Chinatown. And, as both her friends know, Ruby is Japanese passing as Chinese.
At times their differences are pronounced, but the girls grow to depend on one another in order to fulfill their individual dreams. Then the Japanese attack Pearl Harbor and everything changes in a heartbeat. Suddenly the government is sending innocent Japanese to internment camps under suspicion, and Ruby is one of them. But which of her friends betrayed her?

Review (Spoilers!)

Okay so anyone who has read this blog knows that I am a HUGE fan of Lisa See and her latest book China Dolls shows why. The book is set in 1940s America, and from the back drop of Pearl Harbor to the fun dancing girls of the night clubs this is a incredible read.

The book follows the story of three young women who become friends against all the odds set against them, including their own differences. In order for me to give this book a fairly decent review I need to analyse each of the main characters separately.

To begin with there is Grace, a country bumpkin in search of fame in the big city. Talented as both a dancer and a singer she wants to prove that in a time when people were prejudice towards Chinatown and its residents, even a Chinese girl could prove herself. Grace is the naïve presence of the three friends, a girl trapped by her own fears and determined to prove people wrong.

On this journey to find stardom amongst the glitter and jazz of the 40s she meets Helen, a secretive woman, obedient to her family and determined to run from her own terrible past, a past she is determined to keep hidden from her new friends at all costs.

The last of the group is Ruby, a Japanese girl hiding behind a Chinese façade. She's strong willed, fun and over the top compared to her more reserved friends. For her it is nothing but fame and beauty, she wants to be admired and envied by all...and will stop at nothing to get what in her opinion is hers no matter who gets caught in the cross fire.

What I enjoyed the most in this book is the way that the dynamic of the friends changed as each in turn turned against another until betrayal was an inevitable ending. At times I resented the characters of Helen or Ruby depending on what part of the book I was reading, something I have never experience in a Lisa See novel previously. This was an interesting way for me to experience the book as I noticed I sympathised more with Grace than with the other two characters, despite the story being told from each viewpoint.

Overall I think See has shown how difficult life was for not only women, but especially "Oriental" women at the time. But more importantly, throughout the novel she shows how friendship, and the people we encounter through our lives can both bring us great joy as well as great sorrow.

A definite recommendation to any lover of girl power, friendship, Chinese culture, swinging town-cats and history. I personally think this will make a great movie!

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