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China Dolls

Cover of China Dolls

China Dolls

A Novel
by Lisa See
NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLERThe 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...More
NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLERThe 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...More
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Description-
  • NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER

    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. The women's story explores burning questions about the possibilities of friendship, the profound effects of betrayal, the horrors of prejudice and the nature of ambition--especially female ambition. . . . These Asian artists were true pioneers, breaking ground, chasing vast dreams, subverting stereotypes simply by appearing onstage against the odds. Here, in China Dolls, they have found another stage of sorts, another place to rightfully shine."--San Francisco Chronicle

    "China Dolls is [Lisa See's] most penetrating since Snow Flower and the Secret Fan."--The Seattle Times

    "A spellbinding portrait of a time burning with opportunity and mystery."--O: The Oprah Magazine

    From the Hardcover edition.
 
Awards-
Excerpts-
  • Chapter One

    The Sun

    October 1938--- July 1940

    Grace

    A Measly Girl

    I traveled west---alone---on the cheapest bus routes I could find. Every mile took me farther from Plain City, Ohio, where I'd been a flyspeck on the wallpaper of small--town life. Each new state I passed throughloosened another rope around my heart, my legs, my arms, yet my whole body ached and I couldn't shake my vertigo. I lived on aspirin, crackers, and soda pop. I cried and cried and cried. On the eighth day, California. Many hours after crossing the boundary,I got off the bus and pulled my sweater a little more tightly around me. I expected sun and warmth, but on that October afternoon, fog hung over San Francisco, damp, and shockingly cold.

    Picking up my suitcase, I left the bus station and started to walk. The receptionists at the cheap hotels I visited told me they were full. "Go to Chinatown," they suggested. "You can get a room there." I had noidea where Chinatown was, so that didn't help me. And I'll say this about San Francisco: lots of hills, water on practically every side, and, it seemed to me, not a single street ran purely in any one direction. Finally, a man at a fleabag took my money---adollar a day, in advance---and gave me a key to a room.

    I washed my hair in the basin and put it up in pin curls, then leaned in to the mirror to examine what remained of my injuries. My forehead had healed completely, but the inside of my skull continued to swim frombeing banged against the kitchen floor. The skin over my ribs was mottled green, gray, and purple. My shoulder still felt swollen and stiff from being dislocated and then jammed back into place, but the cut on my lip had nearly disappeared. I turned away andsat on the edge of the bed, hungry but too frightened to go out, and listening to the sound of God knows what coming through the walls.

    I opened my purse and pulled out the magazine clipping Miss Miller, who'd taught me dance from the age of four, had torn from a magazine and given to me a few months earlier. I smoothed the advertisement with mypalm so I could study the artist's sketch of the Golden Gate International Exposition. Even its location on Treasure Island seemed to beckon. "See, Grace, they're looking for six thousand workers," Miss Miller had said. "Dancers, singers, welders, carpenters.The whole works." She'd sighed then. "I wanted to go so many places when I was young, but it takes guts---and talent---to leave everything and everyone you know. You could do it, though." Her few words and that slip of paper had given me the courage to believeI actually could. After all, I'd won first prize at the Plain City Fair for my tap dancing and singing when I was seven and had held the title ever since.

    You always planned to leave home, I told myself. Just because you had to escape sooner than expected doesn't mean you can't still fly to the stars.

    But my pep talk---in a scary hotel room, in a strange city, in the middle of the night---did little to ease my fears. Once in bed, I could practically see the walls closing in around me. To calm myself, I began aroutine I'd invented as a small child, running my hands the length of my arms (a broken tibia when I was three; my mom told Doc Haverford I fell down the stairs), slipping along my sides (several broken and fractured ribs over the years), and then lifting eachleg and squeezing all the way to my feet (my legs had been a frequent target until I started dancing). The ritual both strengthened and soothed me. I was now alone in the world, with no home to return to and no one to rely on, but if I could survive my father'sbeatings and the petty prejudices of my hometown, then I...

About the Author-
  • Lisa See is the New York Times bestselling author of Dreams of Joy, Shanghai Girls, Peony in Love, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, Flower Net (an Edgar Award nominee), The Interior, and Dragon Bones, as well as the critically acclaimed memoir On Gold Mountain. The Organization of Chinese American Women named her the 2001 National Woman of the Year. She lives in Los Angeles.

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    Random House Publishing Group
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