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
LS: I would have been excited and terrified too. TK: I really can’t remember if I was excited or not. I was trying to be very careful of what I wore. I had something I had already made. Everything matched. I even had green hose. JL: Mom made all her own costumes. But it was always about the career and putting it out there. It was the only way you were going to get ahead. That’s the performer’s dilemma. There will always be that Broadway show, that television show, that movie part that will
compensate his employees. It’s true what they said about him: he wept when he paid you. One night he bawled so hard that Ida griped, “He cried so much, I wanted to give him back his money.” I’d seen Charlie weep and had him plead with me too: “You don’t really need this, do you? Let me keep it for you.” But I always pocketed my pay without an ounce of guilt or sympathy. I had things to buy and things to do. I couldn’t contemplate the idea that the club might close. FEBRUARY ARRIVED. I’D been
and began to weep. “I’m sorry,” Ruby’s pretty voice sang to me. “I’m so, so sorry. We never wanted you to find out this way.” Joe kept his eyes down and his mouth shut. He pulled on his pants and grabbed his shirt and socks from the clothes scattered on the floor. As soon as he had his belongings, he rushed past Helen and me and out the door. He’d played me for a sap, and he didn’t even have the courage to apologize. He didn’t have the conviction to stand by Ruby either. He’d made suckers of
once the door to her apartment was open and I saw toe shoes dangling from a curtain rod.” She paused. “If you live with me, you’ll have your own room.” “I doubt Grace will be able to share the rent,” Helen said. “She doesn’t need to worry about that. I make plenty of dough. Besides,” Ruby added, pinching my cheek, “I owe you one.” She let me absorb that, while Helen fidgeted. “What about Joe?” I asked. Ruby tapped her nails on the table. “I already told you. There’s not much between us
me into his arms. There was nothing brotherly about his kiss, let me tell you. He held me close as we walked to the Mark Hopkins Hotel, where an elevator whisked us to the nineteenth floor. The Top of the Mark had once been an exclusive nightspot for San Francisco’s café society. Now it catered to the elite-of-the-elite servicemen. Since it was wartime, not only was I allowed in but I was permitted to enter on the arm of an Occidental. Joe slipped the maître d’ a tip, and we were shown to a