Wednesday, June 4, 2014

China Dolls

Title:  China Dolls
Author:  Lisa See
Publication Information:  Random House. 2014. 335 pages.
ISBN:  081299289X / 978-0812992892

Book Source:  I received this book through a publisher's giveaway free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Favorite Quote:  "Age is a number, and I have an unlisted one ... A female performer is a lot like a camellia, which doesn't fade, wilt drop petal by petal, brown on the stem. At the height of its beauty, a camellia drops whole from the bush. You can't escape aging no matter how talented you are."

China Dolls is the story of Grace, Helen, and Ruby, three young women who meet in the San Francisco Chinatown in the 1930s. Two are of Chinese heritage; one is of Japanese heritage; and all are Americans. It charts their lives through World War II, and what it meant to be of Oriental heritage in the United States at that time.

The book vividly brings to life San Francisco in the 1930s and the 1940s. The book also brings to life the three young women. Grace has escaped her childhood home in the Midwest and seeks to make a life based on her dance ability. She has grown up used to being the only Oriental in the community, and the ridicule and pressure that often entailed. Helen is from an affluent and influential Chinatown community. She finds herself bound by tradition and expectations. Ruby too comes from a past and a heritage that she would rather not reveal. She looks to reinvent herself into the "China doll."

Their friendship forms in the Forbidden City nightclub of San Francisco. It ebbs and flows throughout their lives. It has its highs and lows as their individual goals and needs take precedence over the friendship. They bring each other joy and heartache. "I loved those two, but together and separately, they caused me some of the worst pain of my life."

This story is told through the alternating perspectives of the three women. The book is very slow to start. It does eventually pick up some speed, you have to persevere well into the book. The second half is the more interesting one.

The three main characters and their relationship seem somewhat juvenile. They go from meeting to instant friendship. They fight over things and over young men. They are quick to love and quick to betray. I loved Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See. China Dolls lacks the depth in both character and story that Snow Flower and the Secret Fan had.

My favorite part of the book is the history it brings to life. I learned a lot about San Francisco and the Chinese community in the city. The book also brings to life the prejudices that existed at the time, and the impact of Pearl Harbor and World War. It is a better history than a story.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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