Book Review: China Dolls

China DollsIt’s kind of killing me to not love this book. Lisa See is an author whose work I eagerly await so when I got the email that this new release was waiting for me at the library, I rushed over. I expected evocative settings, heart-break and strong-willed, amazing female characters.

I got most of those things, most especially a detailed description of the Chinese nightclub scene in San Francisco in the 1930’s and 40’s. See brings this era to life vividly which I loved.

And there’s plenty of heartache and heartbreak to keep the story moving. Along the way she manages to confront war, racism, promiscuity, Japanese internment camps and lost loves. And really, she handles those issues deftly, weaving them into her story without unnecessary melodrama. But I would say this novel has a surprisingly melancholy feel. The emotional highs are always muted by the knowledge that the bottom is about to drop out.

“Dreamers are born to be disappointed.”

My bigger problem though, came in her three female characters. I never liked them. Grace, Ruby and Helen are passionate. They’re strong-willed. They’re complex. But they’re not likable. I couldn’t root for them in their times of trouble, nor celebrate their successes.

I fell so hard for the female characters in Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, Peony in Love and Shanghai Girls, that these three suffered in comparison.

My 3 star rating may just be a matter of my sky-high expectations for Lisa See. This is a fine book, just not her best.

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