Sunday, July 24, 2011

China In American Fiction

This weekend I read a recently-released book by Lisa See called Dreams of Joy; she's also the author of several other China-themed books which I read but haven't really retained well.  The protagonist, Joy, flees her native Los Angeles in the 1950's after a series of events uncovers a family secret. Joy, a naive-to-the-point-of-stupidity college student, decides to go to Communist China to find her father, believing that she can be part of the glorious revolution that is making China so wonderful.  Boy, is she in for a surprise.  Her mother, Pearl, fully recognizing the danger Joy faces, returns to China to find her and bring her home, but of course it's not that simple.

See's descriptions of life during the Great Leap Forward remind me of the books of Betty Bao Lord; I loved her The Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson as a child and enjoyed Eighth Moon and Spring Moon as an adult.  The way life is portrayed during this time is almost too horrible to be believed, but if one reads the latest biography of Mao Zedong by Jung Chang it seems natural that such a man would create these terrible circumstances.

Amy Tan is another writer who seems to have defined the genre of the Chinese in America -- her Joy Luck Club is an excellent book, as well as The Kitchen God's Wife and others.  My favorite, and an exception to her usual genre, is Saving Fish from Drowning, which is set in Burma and features a group of tourists who get lost.

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