China Dolls: A Novel
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NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY THE WASHINGTON POST
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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
“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
“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
“Lisa See masterfully creates unforgettable characters that linger in your memory long after you close the pages.”—Bookreporter
“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.”—San Francisco Chronicle
“China Dolls is [Lisa See’s] most penetrating since Snow Flower and the Secret Fan.”—The Seattle Times
them. The father liked me, though, and we had fun until his wife found out. But honestly, why did she have to make such a big stink about a hug and a bump in a laundry room? I signed on as an elevator operator at a department store on Union Square—a highlight in what had been a sorry string of jobs—where I used different accents to entertain the shoppers. “Second floor, gentlemen’s suits and other bespoke wear,” growled like a Japanese samurai. “Fifth floor, ladies’ lingerie,” sung as a girl from
shorthand?” I asked, trying to be business-practical. “Isn’t it a way for customers and casting directors to put people like us into a recognizable box—” “Like if you can’t afford Errol Flynn, you put a man in tights, give him a bow and arrow, and throw a felt hat with a feather in it on top of his head, and people will make the connection?” Eddie asked bitterly. So I’d insulted him. “I want to be recognized for who I am and for what I do.” He sighed. “I was hired to play a Hawaiian, an
at war, and my heart seemed insignificant compared to what Joe and Ruby were each facing. That didn’t mean they could get married in California, though. “Let’s drive to Mexico to tie the knot,” Ruby suggested. Joe vetoed the idea, saying it would be foolhardy to leave the country now. Instead, he wrote to the State Bar of Nevada, asking if he could marry an Oriental girl there, and received a letter denying the request on the basis that it was a crime for a Caucasian to “intermarry with any
blood. I was too terrified to scream or run. “Maybe I’ve lost,” he said in an oddly calm voice, “but at least the other guys won’t win.” He stepped toward me. I closed my eyes. Then something crashed through the door. “Police! Drop the weapon!” Officers tackled Ray to the ground. I sprinted into Ida’s room. Her head was twisted back, and her neck was slit. The rest of her body lay splayed at unnatural angles, with her legs and arms askew. Her glassy eyes stared unblinking at the ceiling. Her
he finally spilled the beans. Turns out George Louie’s bad-mouthing about me has moved from our dressing rooms to the front office. Club owners have enough to worry about without entertainers fighting backstage. I said I didn’t do anything. Max said, Yeah, yeah, yeah, and then he hung up on me! If I can’t work in San Francisco and he can’t get me bookings, what am I going to do? I keep writing to you, but you never respond. What have you heard from Eddie? And Monroe? He also promised to write,