Tuesday, April 8, 2014
Book Look: CHINA DOLLS
Lisa See's books teach as well as entertain. In her newest, CHINA DOLLS, she follows three young women in show business. Being Chinese-American put a stereotype upon each one of the friends, and each handles it differently.
In pre-war San Francisco, Grace tries to turn her Midwest dancing skills into a real career. The people doing the hiring see her only as someone who belongs on the freak street. She has much more to offer than showing some leg, and she can't go home again to her brutal father. His beatings have left her bruised and considerably broken.
Helen is sequestered in her family's compound, and she longs for freedom from the tyranny of her father. She can't really sing or dance, but she is beautiful, and her family has connections.
Ruby is unafraid. She is brash and sexy and willing to work no matter what anyone else thinks. So she shows a little skin (a lot of skin)? Whose business is it but hers? Audiences see the daring Ruby and go wild.
All three women move through times of profit and times of despair. The entertainment industry, i.e. film, is not ready for "Oriental" actresses. They work in dance clubs, trying to maintain their self-respect.
Once the war comes, Asians fight a new battle against the prejudices against Japanese-Americans. The FBI lurks around, ready to pounce. The girls want to be good Americans, supporting the troops and giving the sailors and soldier and fly boys something to remember. They write to them as they have promised though many don't write back. Fear of death and fear of imprisonment give Grace, Helen, and Ruby more reasons to act and dance more outrageously.
They become a hit on the Chinese circuit, wending their way across America. Rivalries explode. Babies are born. Loved ones die. In the end, they are left to ponder if their goals of super stardom helped them to make the world a better place or if they were too young to understand the values of their parents' teachings. This is a lesson for all young rebels who eventually grow up. One does not have to be a minority to appreciate family ties and cultural traditions.
CHINA GIRLS is a quick read with action and unusual settings. The journey of Helen, Grace, and Ruby is certainly a long and winding road to maturity and wisdom.