Lisa See's latest novel, China Dolls, begins in 1938. Seventeen-year-old dancer Grace Lee arrives in San Francisco after fleeing from her abusive father and a miserable life in small-town Ohio. She soon meets Helen Fong, a privileged daughter of a wealthy Chinatown businessman, and worldly and wild Ruby Tom. The three ambitious young women become friends and soon audition for jobs dancing at The Forbidden City, a new all-Chinese nightclub in San Francisco's Chinatown. As World War II begins, Grace, Helen and Ruby go their separate ways and try to make a living, all the while being viewed suspiciously because of their ethnicity. Will their friendship be able to survive the war years?
The chapters of this novel switch between the first-person narration of Grace, Helen and Ruby. The characters are well-drawn and believable. Ms. See's thorough research of the history and culture of Chinatown's nightclub scene of the 1930s-1940s makes for a strong sense of place. Many historical figures appear, adding to the authenticity of the setting. Fans of Lisa See will not be disappointed with this novel. Other books readers may enjoy are Night in Shanghai by Nicole Mones and Women of the Silk by Gail Tsukiyama.
Reviewed by nw, 06/14. Other reviews by nw.