China Dolls
by Lisa See

The author of "Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, Peony in Love, "and" Shanghai Girls" has garnered international acclaim for her great skill at rendering the intricate relationships of women and the complex meeting of history and fate.

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More About China Dolls by Lisa See
The author of "Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, Peony in Love, "and" Shanghai Girls" has garnered international acclaim for her great skill at rendering the intricate relationships of women and the complex meeting of history and fate. Now comes Lisa See's highly anticipated new novel, "China Dolls."
It's 1938 in San Francisco: a world's fair is preparing to open on Treasure Island, a war is brewing overseas, and the city is alive with possibilities. Grace, Helen, and Ruby, three young women from very different backgrounds, meet by chance at the exclusive and glamorous Forbidden City nightclub. Grace Lee, an American-born Chinese girl, has fled the Midwest with nothing but heartache, talent, and a pair of dancing shoes. Helen Fong lives with her extended family in Chinatown, where her traditional parents insist that she guard her reputation like a piece of jade. The stunning Ruby Tom challenges the boundaries of convention at every turn with her defiant attitude and no-holds-barred ambition.
The girls become fast friends, relying on one another through unexpected challenges and shifting fortunes. When their dark secrets are exposed and the invisible thread of fate binds them even tighter, they find the strength and resilience to reach for their dreams. But after the Japanese attack Pearl Harbor, paranoia and suspicion threaten to destroy their lives, and a shocking act of betrayal changes everything.
Praise for "China Dolls"
"Superb . . . This emotional, informative and brilliant page-turner resonates with resilience and humanity."--"The Washington Post"
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"This is one of those stories I've always wanted to tell, but Lisa See beat me to it, and she did it better than I ever could. Bravo Here's a roaring standing ovation for this heartwarming journey into the glittering golden age of Chinese nightclubs."--Jamie Ford, author of "Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet"
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"A fascinating portrait of life as a Chinese-American woman in the 1930s and '40s.""--The New York Times Book Review"
"A sweeping, turbulent tale of passion, friendship, good fortune, bad fortune, perfidy and the hope of reconciliation.""--Los Angeles Times"
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"Lisa See masterfully creates unforgettable characters that linger in your memory long after you close the pages.""--Bookreporter"
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"Stellar . . . The depth of See's characters and her winning prose makes this book a wonderful journey through love and loss."--"Publishers Weekly "(starred review)
""China Dolls" plunges us into a fascinating history and offers an accessible meditation on themes that are still urgent in our contemporary world. The women's story explores burning questions about the possibilities of friendship, the profound effects of betrayal, the horrors of prejudice and the nature of ambition--especially female ambition. . . . These Asian artists were true pioneers, breaking ground, chasing vast dreams, subverting stereotypes simply by appearing onstage against the odds. Here, in "China Dolls, " they have found another stage of sorts, another place to rightfully shine."--"San Francisco Chronicle"
""China Dolls" is Lisa See's] most penetrating since "Snow Flower and the Secret Fan.""--"The Seattle Times"
"A spellbinding portrait of a time burning with opportunity and mystery."--"O: The Oprah Magazine"

  • ISBN-13: 9780812992892
  • ISBN-10: 081299289X
  • Publisher: Random House
  • Publish Date: June 2014
  • Page Count: 383

Related Categories

Books > Fiction > Asian American
Books > Fiction > Historical - General
Books > Fiction > Sagas

Publishers Weekly Reviews

Publishers Weekly® Reviews

  • Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
  • Review Date: 2014-03-17
  • Reviewer: Staff

In the beginning of See’s (Snow Flower and the Secret Fan) stellar ninth book, three young women, Grace, Helen, and Ruby, meet and form an unlikely but strong bond in San Francisco in 1938, as the Golden Gate International Exhibition is about to open. Grace has run from an abusive father in the Midwest; Helen is trapped by her traditional family in Chinatown after a devastating loss; Ruby is Japanese, desperate to pass as Chinese to stay employed as the U.S. moves closer to war with Japan. They become performers at the Forbidden City Nightclub and face the difficulty of being Asian in an Occidental world, as well as the additional conflict of prejudice within their own community. The novel spans 50 years, following the women’s tumultuous personal lives and roller-coaster career choices. Yet somehow the three always find a way back to each other, and come through for each other in the darkest of times. The story alternates between their viewpoints, with each woman’s voice strong and dynamic, developing a multilayered richness as it progresses. The depth of See’s characters and her winning prose makes this book a wonderful journey through love and loss. (June)

BookPage Reviews

Unlikely bonds in 1938 San Francisco

Chinese-American author Lisa See has made her mark in the realm of historical fiction by melding her well-researched historical sagas with strong female characters linked either by birth, as in Shanghai Girls (2009) and Dreams of Joy (2011), or by lifelong friendship, as in her breakout book Snow Flower and the Secret Fan (2005).

In her ninth book, See explores the Chinese community in San Francisco, where three young women meet on an evening in 1938 as they audition for spots as dancers at the glamorous Forbidden City nightclub. Grace Lee has fled from an abusive father in Plain City, Ohio, where her family members were the only Chinese she had ever seen. She becomes lost in the maze of Chinatown, and is rescued by Helen Fong, the only daughter in a very traditional family. Her father expects her to marry soon and become a traditional Chinese wife and mother.

At the audition, the two meet the flamboyant Ruby Tom, a young Japanese woman passing as Chinese. She loves glitter, she tells her new friends, and she wants to become famous. The three are hired to dance at the Forbidden City, and soon each one becomes a star—while at the same time vowing to support one another through good and bad.

See traces the lives of these three memorable women through chapters told in their alternating voices, drawing the reader into their struggles, their romantic adventures and their backstories, which are only gradually revealed. As the story reaches World War II and then beyond, the women face racism, as well as more challenges in their personal lives and their careers.

See’s compelling story of these three resilient women—connected by fierce loyalty, as well as one act of betrayal that threatens that bond—is backed by meticulous research into the Chinese-American nightclub era, making her portrayal of this little-known period in history all the more memorable.


This article was originally published in the June 2014 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

BAM Customer Reviews