Dmae Roberts talks with acclaimed author Lisa See. Her latest novel, Dreams of Joy debuted at No. 1 on the NY Times best seller list. See tells us about her extensive research on Mao's Great Leap Forward that caused the death of up 45 million people in China from 1958-1961. We also hear about the movie version of See's book Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, to be released in July 2011.
Dreams of Joy is a sequel to See's earlier novel, Shanghai Girls. The book follows the title character, 19-year-old Joy, and her mother Pearl in Communist China during a horrific time: the euphemistically-named Great Leap Forward.
As in all of her novels, See brings the stories to life with details gleaned from her intensive eresearch. But Dreams of Joy also deals with the universal theme of the relationship between mother and daughter. As one Chinese aphorism goes, "Mothers suffer. Childen do what they want."
Lisa See grew up in Los Angeles, the great-granddaughter of a patriarch of Los Angeles Chinatown, Fong See. Although she lived with her mother, who is not Chinese, she also spent a lot of time with her father's Chinese American family. These experiences of being in between two cultures laid the groundwork for her writing later on.
Lisa See on the Great Leap Forward
Lisa See interview excerpt: "The Great Leap Forward starts in 1958. It was a new country. I think they did want to bring China up into the 20th century. They wanted to become what they actually have become: a global economic superpower. But this was their way of trying to get there. And they had these campaigns where sometimes it would seem like a good idea at the beginning, but they didn’t really think through the consequences. […] If you put a frog in hot water and you slowly turn it up, it doesn’t have the sense to jump out because it’s not really noticing until it’s too late. I think that’s part of what is happening here."
Listen to Stage & Studio to hear more about the Great Leap Forward, including how the policies led to overpopulation, mass starvation, and the death of millions of Chinese.
Read a short excerpt from Dreams of Joy from the point of view of Pearl, Joy's mother:
Lisa See reading: " As a girl, I dreamed of my wedding. The dress, the veil, the banquet, the gifts. And none of it turned out the way I imagined. As a mother, I’ve dreamed of my daughter’s wedding. A ceremony in the Methodist church in Chinatown attended by all of our friends, Joy’s dress, my dress, the flowers, the reception at Su Qiao restaurant. But this is nothing like that either. Joy is right that there isn’t supposed to be any kind of ceremony or celebration, but as a stranger and someone who has some money to spend, I can bend the rules. Brigade leader Lai is more than happy to take a bribe, some of my special overseas Chinese certificates worth less than 20 dollars, so I can give my daughter a wedding that pays homage to the past and is still true to the new China."
Listen to Stage & Studio to hear Lisa See read a longer passage!
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