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China Dolls by Lisa See
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China Dolls

by Lisa See

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1913461,769 (3.65)19
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    Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford (kqueue)
    kqueue: Both books deal with Asian-Americans at the onset of World War II and the injustices they suffered along with the tensions between Japanese-Americans and Chinese-Americans.
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This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Helen, Grace, and Ruby are three young Oriental girls in San Francisco who meet and become friends as dancers in The Forbidden City nightclub. The book takes them from 1938 to 1948, through loves and losses, a World War, and times of happiness, sadness, and anger.
Each chapter of the book is narrated by one of the girls, but I found it difficult to keep them apart. There was very little that was different enough about each of them to be able to tell by the reading who was speaking. I also didn't find that their behavior rang true much of the time.
I'm usually a big fan of Lisa See's books, but this one was a little bit disappointing. ( )
  tloeffler | Jul 14, 2014 |
Engaging story about three Asian dancers (two Chinese, one Japanese) in San Francisco during WW II. It was a bit overly dramatic at times, but the characters were well drawn and the story held my attention. ( )
  bearette24 | Jul 7, 2014 |
The story of Grace, Helen and Ruby, Chinese Americans coming of age during the World War II era, is told in alternating points of view from each of the three women. They meet by chance while auditioning for the part of showgirl at a nightclub in San Francisco, and soon become good friends, vowing to never let anything come between them. But through the years their friendships are tested as each tries to outshine the other; secrets are revealed and loyalties are betrayed.

The women’s characters are well-developed, as are their family, friends and coworkers. Rich with historical detail, the World War II era comes to life. After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, paranoia and suspicion are heightened, and we vividly experience the prejudice, discrimination and racism of the times through each of the women’s eyes. Written with cringe-worthy realism, the author vividly portrays an unfortunate period of history where bigotry became acceptable, and even encouraged, to promote patriotism.

Perhaps it was the alternating viewpoints, the large number or characters or the need to fill in a lot of back story, but for me, the book had a slow start. At first the women seemed a lot alike. But once war broke out, their lives took different paths and the plot began to accelerate, following each woman’s life through the end of the war. The novel closes with a jump 50 years into the future, providing a satisfying epilogue to each of their stories.

Audio Production:

Jodi Lang’s narration was performed with emotion and enthusiasm. It took me an hour or so to get comfortable with her style, but once I did, the characters came alive.

Having multiple points-of-view and only one narrator, as opposed to using an ensemble cast, made the audio a little more difficult to follow, especially in the early part of the novel when we are still learning the back story. Plus, there were many secondary characters and their relationships to each women to remember. Jodi did change her voice while performing the narration for each of the girls, but Helen and Grace sounded too similar at times. While this book requires some additional concentration, experienced audio listeners should enjoy the production. ( )
  UnderMyAppleTree | Jul 4, 2014 |
Three young women with ambitions to perform meet in San Francisco before the outbreak of WW II, and vow to be friends forever. Of course, reality gets in the way, along with secrets, history, race, cultural identity, jealousy, and especially secrets. The novel spans the war years in particular, and then ends in 1988. ( )
  sleahey | Jul 4, 2014 |
Three Asian-American women bind - more from necessity than friendship - in 1938 in San Francisco's Chinatown. In a novel that spans the next ten years, with an epilogue 40 years later, 17-year-old Grace Lee, 19-year-old Helen Fong, and 20-year-old Ruby Tom tell their interweaving stories in alternate chapters.  The girls move from performing at the Golden Gate International Exposition at Treasure Island to the new Forbidden City nightclub near Chinatown, often competing with each other for spots on the stage, as well as in romance.  Each of the girls has secrets - some known to all (including the reader) from the beginning, others revealed (rather abruptly in some cases) as the story progresses.

As is usual with Lisa See's novels, this one is rich from research.  See incorporated some real people into the story:  Forbidden City owner Charlie Low, choreographer Walton Biggerstaff, vaudevillians Ming and Ling (actually Filipinos), dancer Dorothy Toy (a Japanese passing as Chinese), and Ed Sullivan.  She interviewed many surviving Asian-American performers, and used their stories and those of others to create her characters.  Ruby's fan- and bubble-dance act, for example, was inspired by that of Noel Toy, the "Chinese Sally Rand."  Other inspiration came from Mai Tai Sing, Mary Tom,  Dorothy Sun and Mary Mammon.  See shares a lot of her research in a special section of her website.

Moreover, I think See portrays the complexities of female friendship - the betrayals and dishonesty along with the love and support - realistically.  I loved this book, and I look forward to See's next one, which is supposed to be about tea.

© Amanda Pape - 2014

[This book was borrowed from and returned to my local public library. This review also appears on Bookin' It.] ( )
  riofriotex | Jun 30, 2014 |
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Epigraph
Only three things cannot be long hidden:  the sun, the moon, and the truth.  (Attributed to Buddha)
Dedication
For Henry Theodore Kendall
First words
I traveled west--alone--on the cheapest bus routes I could find.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 081299289X, Hardcover)

The New York Times bestselling author of Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, Peony In Love, Shanghai Girls, and Dreams of Joy returns with her highly anticipated new novel. A bold and bittersweet story of secrets and sacrifice, love and betrayal, prejudice and passion, China Dolls reveals a rich portrait of female friendship, as three young women navigate the “Chop Suey Circuit”—America’s extravagant all-Asian revues of the 1930s and ’40s—and endure the attack on Pearl Harbor and the shadow of World War II.

(retrieved from Amazon Tue, 17 Dec 2013 00:23:03 -0500)

"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, everything changes in a heartbeat with the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. 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?"--… (more)

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