Dreams Of Joy: A Novel

Hardcover | May 31, 2011

byLisa See

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In her beloved New York Times bestsellers Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, Peony in Love, and, most recently, Shanghai Girls, Lisa See has brilliantly illuminated the potent bonds of mother love, romantic love, and love of country. Now, in her most powerful novel yet, she returns to these timeless themes, continuing the story of sisters Pearl and May from Shanghai Girls, and Pearl’s strong-willed nineteen-year-old daughter, Joy.

Reeling from newly uncovered family secrets, and anger at her mother and aunt for keeping them from her, Joy runs away to Shanghai in early 1957 to find her birth father—the artist Z.G. Li, with whom both May and Pearl were once in love. Dazzled by him, and blinded by idealism and defiance, Joy throws herself into the New Society of Red China, heedless of the dangers in the communist regime.

Devastated by Joy’s flight and terrified for her safety, Pearl is determined to save her daughter, no matter the personal cost. From the crowded city to remote villages, Pearl confronts old demons and almost insurmountable challenges as she follows Joy, hoping for reconciliation. Yet even as Joy’s and Pearl’s separate journeys converge, one of the most tragic episodes in China’s history threatens their very lives.

Acclaimed for her richly drawn characters and vivid storytelling, Lisa See once again renders a family challenged by tragedy and time, yet ultimately united by the resilience of love.

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From the Publisher

In her beloved New York Times bestsellers Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, Peony in Love, and, most recently, Shanghai Girls, Lisa See has brilliantly illuminated the potent bonds of mother love, romantic love, and love of country. Now, in her most powerful novel yet, she returns to these timeless themes, continuing the story of sisters...

Lisa See is the New York Times bestselling author of 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. S...

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Format:HardcoverDimensions:368 pages, 9.53 × 6.44 × 1.08 inPublished:May 31, 2011Publisher:Random House Publishing GroupLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:140006712X

ISBN - 13:9781400067121

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THE WAIL OF a police siren in the distance tears through my body. Crickets whir in a never- ending chorus of blame. My aunt whimpers in her twin bed at the other end of the screened porch we share— a reminder of the misery and embarrassment from the secrets she and my mother threw at each other during their argument tonight. I try to listen for my mother in her room, but she’s too far away. That silence is painful. My hands grab the bedsheets, and I struggle to focus on an old crack in the ceiling. I’m desperately attempting to hang on, but I’ve been on a precipice since my father’s death, and now I feel as though I’ve been pushed over the edge and am falling.Everything I thought I knew about my birth, my parents, my grandparents, and who I am has been a lie. A big fat lie. The woman I thought was my mother is my aunt. My aunt is actually my mother. The man I loved as my father was not related to me at all. My real father is an artist in Shanghai whom both my mother and aunt have loved since before I was born. And that’s only the tip of the iceberg— as Auntie May might say. But I was born in the Year of the Tiger, so before the gnawing blackness of guilt about my dad’s death and the anguish I feel about these revelations overpower me, I grip the sheets tighter, set my jaw, and try to force my emotions to cower and shrink before my Tiger ferocity. It doesn’t work. I wish I could talk to my friend Hazel, but it’s the middle of the night. I wish even more that I could be back at the University of Chicago, because my boyfriend, Joe, would understand what I’m going through. I know he would.It’s two in the morning by the time my aunt drifts off to sleep and the house seems quiet. I get up and go to the hall, where my clothes are kept in a linen closet. Now I can hear my mother weeping, and it’s heartbreaking. She can’t imagine what I’m about to do, but even if she did, would she stop me? I’m not her daughter. Why should she stop me? I quickly pack a bag. I’ll need money for where I’m going, and the only place I know to get it will bring me more disgrace and shame. I hurry to the kitchen, look under the sink, and pull out the coffee can that holds my mother’s savings to put me through college. This money represents all her hopes and dreams for me, but I’m not that person anymore. She’s always been cautious, and for once I’m grateful. Her fear of banks and Americans will fund my escape.I look for paper and a pencil, sit down at the kitchen table, and scrawl a note.Mom, I don’t know who I am anymore. I don’t understand this country anymore.I hate that it killed Dad. I know you’ll think I’m confused and foolish. Maybe I am, but I have to find answers. Maybe China is my real home . . .I go on to write that I mean to find my real father and that she shouldn’t worry about me. I fold the paper and take it to the porch. Auntie May doesn’t stir when I put the note on my pillow. At the front door, I hesitate. My invalid uncle is in his bedroom at the back of the house. He’s never done anything to me. I should tell him good- bye, but I know what he’ll say. “Communists are no good. They’ll kill you.”I don’t need to hear that, and I don’t want him to alert my mother and aunt that I’m leaving.I pick up my suitcase and step into the night. At the corner, I turn down Alpine Street, and head for Union Station. It’s August 23, 1957, and I want to memorize everything because I doubt I’ll ever see Los Angeles Chinatown again. I used to love to stroll these streets, and I know them better than anyplace else in the world. Here, I know everyone and everyone knows me. The houses— almost all of them clapboard bungalows— have been what I call Chinafied, with bamboo planted in the gardens, pots with miniature kumquat trees sitting on porches, and wooden planks laid on the ground on which to spread leftover rice for birds. I look at it all differently now. Nine months at college— and the events of tonight— will do that. I learned and did so much at the University of Chicago during my freshman year. I met Joe and joined the Chinese Students Democratic Christian Association. I learned all about the People’s Republic of China and what Chairman Mao is doing for the country, all of which contradicts everything my family believes. So when I came home in June, what did I do? I criticized my father for seeming as if he were fresh off the boat, for the greasy food he cooked in his café, and for the dumb TV shows he liked to watch.These memories trigger a dialogue in my head that I’ve been having since his death. Why didn’t I see what my parents were going through? I didn’t know that my father was a paper son and that he’d come to this country illegally. If I’d known, I never would have begged my dad to confess to the FBI— as if he didn’t have anything to hide. My mother holds Auntie May responsible for what happened, but she’s wrong. Even Auntie May thinks it was her fault. “When the FBI agent came to Chinatown,” she confessed to me on the porch only a few hours ago, “I talked tohim about Sam.” But Agent Sanders never really cared about my dad’s legal status, because the first thing he asked about was me.And then the loop of guilt and sorrow tightens even more. How could I have known that the FBI considered the group I joined a front for Communist activities? We picketed stores that wouldn’t allow Negroes to work or sit at the lunch counter.We talked about how the United States had interned American citizens of Japanese descent during the war. How could those things make me a Communist? But they did in the eyes of the FBI, which is why that awful agent told my dad he’d be cleared if he ratted out anyone he thought was a Communist or a Communist sympathizer.If I hadn’t joined the Chinese Students Democratic Christian Association,the FBI couldn’t have used that to push my father to name others— specificallyme. My dad never would have turned me in, leaving him only one choice. As longas I live I will never forget the sight of my mother holding my father’s legs in a hopelessattempt to take his weight off the rope around his neck, and I will never ever forgivemyself for my role in his suicide.JoyLIFE SAVERSi turn down Broadway and then onto Sunset, which allows me tocontinue passing places I want to remember. The Mexican tourist attractionof Olvera Street is closed, but strings of gaily colored carnival lightscast a golden glow over the closed souvenir stands. To my right is thePlaza, the birthplace of the city, with its wrought- iron bandstand. Justbeyond that, I see the entrance to Sanchez Alley. When I was little, myfamily lived on the second floor of the Garnier Building on SanchezAlley, and now my heart fills with memories of my grandmother playingwith me in the Plaza, my aunt treating me to Mexican lollipops onOlvera Street, and my mother taking me through here every day to andfrom school in Chinatown. Those were happy years, and yet they werealso filled with so many secrets that I wonder what in my life was real atall.Before me, palm trees throw perfect shadows on Union Station’sstucco walls. The clock tower reads 2:47 a.m. I was barely a year oldwhen the train station opened, so this place too has been a constant in mylife. There are no cars or streetcars at this hour, so I don’t bother waitingfor the light to change and dash across Alameda. A lone taxi sits at thecurb outside the terminal. Inside, the cavernous waiting room is deserted,and my footsteps echo on the marble and tile floors. I slip into atelephone booth and shut the door. An overhead light comes on, and Isee myself in the glass’s reflection.My mother always discouraged me from acting like a peacock. “Youdon’t want to be like your auntie,” she always chastised me if she caught. . . 10 . . .me looking in a mirror. Now I realize she never wanted me to look tooclosely. Because now that I look, now that I really look, I see just howmuch I resemble Auntie May. My eyebrows are shaped like willowleaves, my skin is pale, my lips are full, and my hair is onyx black. Myfamily always insisted that I keep it long and I used to be able to sit on it,but earlier this year I went to a salon in Chicago and asked to have it cutshort like Audrey Hepburn’s. The beautician called it a pixie cut. Nowmy hair is boy- short and shines even here in the dim light of the phonebooth.I dump the contents of my coin purse on the ledge, then dial Joe’snumber and wait for the operator to tell me how much the first threeminutes will cost. I put the coins in the slot, and Joe’s line rings. It’s closeto five a.m. in Chicago, so I’m waking him up.“Hello?” comes his groggy voice.“It’s me,” I say, trying to sound enthusiastic. “I’ve run away. I’m readyto do what we talked about.”“What time is it?”“You need to get up. Pack. Get on a plane to San Francisco. We’regoing to China. You said we should be a part of what’s happening there.Well, let’s do it.”Across the telephone line, I hear him roll over and sit up.“Joy?”“Yes, yes, it’s me. We’re going to China!”“China? You mean the People’s Republic of China? Jesus, Joy, it’s themiddle of the night. Are you okay? Did something happen?”“You took me to get my passport so we could go together.”“Are you crazy?”“You said that if we went to China we’d work in the fields and singsongs,” I continue. “We’d do exercises in the park. We’d help clean theneighborhood and share meals. We wouldn’t be poor and we wouldn’tbe rich. We’d all be equal.”“Joy—”“Being Chinese and carrying that on our shoulders and in our heartscan be a burden, but it’s also a source of pride and joy. You said that too.”“It’s one thing to talk about all that’s happening in China, but I havea future here— dental school, joining my dad’s practice. . . . I neverplanned on actually going there.”When I hear the ridicule in his voice, I wonder what all those meet-ings and all his chatter were about. Was talking about equal rights, sharingthe wealth, and the value of socialism over capitalism just a way to getin my pants? (Not that I let him.)“I’d be killed and so would you,” he concludes, echoing the same propagandathat Uncle Vern has recited to me all summer.“But it was your idea!”“Look, it’s the middle of the night. Call me tomorrow. No, don’t dothat. It costs too much. You’ll be back here in a couple of weeks. We cantalk about it then.”“But—”The line goes dead.I refuse to allow my fury with and disappointment in Joe to shake mefrom my plan. My mom has always tried to nurture my best characteristics.Those born in the Year of the Tiger are romantic and artistic, but shehas always cautioned me that it’s also in a Tiger’s nature to be rash andimpulsive, to leap away when circumstances are rough. These things mymom has tried to cage in me, but my desire to leap is overwhelming andI won’t let this setback stop me. I’m determined to find my father, evenif he lives in a country of over 600 million people.I go back outside. The taxi is still here. The driver sleeps in the frontseat. I tap on the window, and he wakes with a jerk.“Take me to the airport,” I say.Once there, I head straight for the Western Airlines counter, becauseI’ve always liked their television commercials. To go to Shanghai, I’llhave to fly to Hong Kong first. To go to Hong Kong, I’ll have to departfrom San Francisco. I buy a ticket for the first leg of my journey andboard the day’s first flight to San Francisco. It’s still early morning whenI land. I go to the Pan Am counter to ask about Flight 001, which goes allthe way around the world with stops in Honolulu, Tokyo, and HongKong. The woman in her perky uniform looks at me strangely when Ipay cash for a one- way ticket to Hong Kong, but when I hand her mypassport, she gives me the ticket anyway.I have a couple of hours to wait for my plane. I find a phone boothand call Hazel’s house. I don’t plan on telling her where I’m going. Joealready let me down, and I suspect Hazel’s reaction would be evenworse. She’d warn me that Red China is a bad place and stuff like that—all the usual negativity we’re both accustomed to hearing from ourfamilies.The youngest Yee sister answers the phone, and she hands me over toHazel.“I want to say good- bye,” I say. “I’m leaving the country.”“What are you talking about?” Hazel asks.“I have to get away.”“You’re leaving the country?”I can tell Hazel doesn’t believe me— because neither of us has beenanywhere other than Big Bear and San Diego for weekend excursionswith the Methodist church, and college— but she will later. By then, I’llbe somewhere over the Pacific. There’ll be no turning back.“You’ve always been a good friend,” I tell her. Tears cloud my eyes.“You’ve been my best friend. Don’t forget me.”“I won’t forget you.” Then after a pause, she asks, “So do you want togo to Bullock’s this afternoon? I wouldn’t mind buying some things totake back to Berkeley.”“You’re the best, Haz. Bye.”The click of the receiver going back into the cradle sounds final.When my flight is called, I board and take my seat. My fingers seekout the pouch I wear around my neck. Auntie May gave it to me lastsummer before I left for Chicago. It contains three sesame seeds, threebeans, and three coppers from China. “Our mother gave these pouchesto Pearl and me to protect us when we fled Shanghai,” she told me lastnight. “I gave mine to you on the day you were born. Your mother didn’twant you to wear it when you were a baby, but she let me give it to youwhen you went away to college. I’m glad you’ve worn it this past year.”My aunt . . . My mom . . . My eyes begin to well, but I fight back thetears, knowing that, if I start to cry, I may never stop.But how could May have given me up? How could my real fatherhave let me go? And what about my father Sam? Did he know I wasn’this? May said no one else knew. If he had known, he wouldn’t have killedhimself. He would still be alive to throw me out on the street as the disrespectful,shameful, deceitful, troublemaking bastard that I am. Well,I’m out now. My mom and aunt are probably up, and still not speakingto each other but beginning to wonder where I am. I’m glad I’m notthere to choose which mother to love and be loyal to, even with all theirpoisonous secrets, because that’s an impossible choice. Worst, there’sgoing to be a moment when things calm down and my mom and auntmake peace— and they go over everything again with a fine- tooth comb,as they always do— that they put two and two together and realize thatI’m the real source of what happened to my father Sam, not Auntie May.How will they react when it finally sinks in that I’m the one the FBI wasinterested in, that I’m the one who led Agent Sanders right to our home,causing such devastation? When that happens, they’ll be glad I’m gone.Maybe.I let go of my pouch and wipe my sweaty hands on my skirt. I’manxious— who wouldn’t be?—but I can’t let myself worry about howwhat I’m doing might affect my mom and aunt. I love them both, butI’m mad at them and afraid of what they’ll think of me too— and just likethat, I know I’ll always call May my auntie and Pearl my mom. OtherwiseI’ll be more confused than I already am. If Hazel were sitting nextto me, she’d say, “Oh, Joy, you’re a mess.” Fortunately, she’s not here.about a billion hours later, we land in Hong Kong. Some men roll aset of stairs to the plane, and I get off with the rest of the passengers.Waves of heat shimmy off the tarmac, and the air is stiflingly hot, withhumidity that’s even worse than when I left Chicago in June. I follow theother passengers into the terminal, down a dingy hall, to a big room withlots of lines for passport control. When my turn comes, the man asks ina crisp British accent, “What is your final destination?”“Shanghai in the People’s Republic of China,” I answer.“Stand to the side!” He gets on the phone, and in a couple of minutestwo guards come to get me. They take me to the baggage area to retrievemy suitcase, and then I’m led down more shadowy hallways. I don’t seeany other passengers, only people in uniforms who stare at me suspiciously.“Where are we going?”One of the guards answers my question by roughly jerking my arm.Finally we reach a set of double doors. We push through them and backinto the horrible heat. I’m put in the back of a windowless van and toldto keep quiet. The guards get in up front, and we start to drive. I can’t seeanything. I don’t understand what’s going on and I’m scared— petrified,if I’m honest. All I can do is hang on as the van makes sharp turns andgoes over bumpy roads. It pulls to a stop after a half hour. The guardscome around to the back of the van. They talk for a few minutes, leavingme inside to worry and sweat. When the doors are opened, I see thatwe’re on a wharf where a big boat is taking on cargo. The boat flies theflag of the People’s Republic of China— five gold stars on a red background.That same mean guard yanks me out of the van and drags me tothe gangplank.“We don’t want you spreading communism here,” he practically yellsat me as he hands me my suitcase. “Get on the boat and don’t get off untilyou reach China.”The two guards stand at the bottom of the gangplank to make sure Iboard. All this is a surprise— an intimidating and unsettling surprise. Atthe top of the gangplank, I see a sailor. No, that’s not what he’d be called.He’s a crewman, I think. He speaks rapidly to me in Mandarin, the officiallanguage of China and a language I don’t feel confident about in itspure form. I’ve heard my mother and aunt converse in the Wu dialect—Shanghainese— my whole life. I believe I know it well but not nearly aswell as I do Cantonese, which was the common language in Chinatown.When talking to my family, I’ve always used a little Cantonese, a littleShanghainese, and a little English. I guess I’ll be giving up English entirelyfrom here on out.“Can you say that again, and maybe a little slower?” I ask.“Are you returning to the motherland?”I nod, pretty sure I’m understanding him.“Good, welcome! I’ll show you where to bunk. Then I’ll take you tothe captain. You’ll pay him for your ticket.”I look back down to the two guards still watching me on the wharf. Iwave, like an idiot. And then I follow the crewman. When I was younger,I worked as an extra with my aunt in lots of movies. I was once in a filmabout Chinese orphans being evacuated by boat from China during thewar, and this is nothing like that set. There’s rust everywhere. The stairsare narrow and steep. The corridors are dimly lit. We’re still docked, butI can feel the sway of the water beneath my feet, which suggests that thismight not be the most seaworthy vessel. I’m told I’ll have a cabin to myself,but when I see it, it’s hard to imagine sharing the claustrophobicallysmall space with anyone else. It’s hot outside and it may be even hotterin here.Later I’m introduced to the captain. His teeth are tobacco stained andhis uniform is grimy with food and oil. He watches closely when I openmy wallet and pay for my ticket. The whole thing is kind of creepy.On my way back to my cabin, I remind myself this is what I wanted.Run away. Adventure. Find my father. A joyful reunion. Although I onlyjust found out that Z.G. Li is my father, I’d heard about him before. Heused to paint my mom and aunt when they were models back in Shanghai.I’ve never seen any of those posters, but I did see some of the illustrationshe did for China Reconstructs, a propaganda magazine mygrandfather used to buy from under the table at the tobacconist. It wasstrange seeing my mother’s and aunt’s faces on the cover of a magazinefrom Red China. Z.G. Li had painted them from memory, and he did somany more times. By then he’d changed his name to Li Zhi- ge, probablyin keeping with the political changes in China, according to my mom.My aunt liked to pin the magazine covers with his illustrations to thewall above her bed, so I feel like I already know a bit about him as anartist. I’m sure that Z.G.—or whatever he wants me to call him— will bevery surprised and happy to see me. These thoughts temporarily alleviatemy concerns about the soundness of the boat and its strange captain.As soon as we leave Hong Kong harbor, I go to the galley for dinner.It turns out the boat is primarily for returning Overseas Chinese. A differentboat leaves Hong Kong every day, I’m told, taking others like meto China. Twenty passengers— all Chinese men— from Singapore, Australia,France, and the United States, have also been brought directly tothis boat from other flights and other ships. (What does Hong Kongthink will happen if one of us stays overnight or for a week?) Halfwaythrough dinner, I start to feel queasy. Before dessert is served, I have toleave the table because I feel so nauseated. I barely make it back to myroom. The smells of oil and the latrine, the heat, and the emotional andphysical exhaustion of the last few days hit me hard. I spend the nextthree days trying to keep down broth and tea, sleeping, sitting on thedeck hoping to find cool air, and chatting with the other passengers, whogive me all kinds of useless advice about seasickness.On the fourth night, I’m in my bunk when the rolling of the ship finallyeases. We must be passing into the Yangtze River estuary. I’ve beentold it will take a few more hours before we veer onto the Whangpoo Riverto reach Shanghai. I get up just before dawn and put on my favoritedress— a shift of pale blue dotted swiss over white lining. I visit the captain,hand him an envelope to mail when he returns to Hong Kong, and ask ifhe can change some of my dollars into Chinese money. I give him fivetwenty- dollar bills. He pockets forty dollars and then gives me sixty dollars’worth of Chinese yuan. I’m too shocked to argue, but his actions makeme realize I don’t know what will happen when I land. Am I going to betreated like I was in Hong Kong? Will the people I encounter be like thecaptain and take my money? Or will something entirely different happen?My mother always said China was corrupt. I thought that sort of thingwent out with the Communist takeover, but apparently it hasn’t disappearedcompletely. What would my mom do if she were here? She’d hideher cash, as she did at home. When I get back to my cabin, I take out allthe money I stole from her can under the sink and divide it into two piles,wrapping the larger amount in a handkerchief and pinning it to my underwear.I take the rest—$250—and put it in my wallet with my new Chinesemoney. Then I pick up my suitcase, leave the cabin, and disembark.it’s eight a.m., and the air is as thick, heavy, and hot white as potatosoup. I’m herded with the other passengers into a stifling room filledwith cigarette smoke and pungent with the odors of food that’s spent toolong without refrigeration in this weather. The walls are painted a sicklypea green. The humidity is so bad that the windows sweat. In America,everything would be orderly, with people standing in lines. Here, my fellowpassengers crush forward in a throbbing mass to the single processingkiosk. I linger on the edges because I’m nervous after my experiencewith passport control in Hong Kong. The line moves very slowly, withnumerous delays for reasons I can’t see or intuit. It takes three hours forme to reach the window.An inspector dressed in an ill- fitting drab green uniform asks, “Whatis the reason for your visit?”He speaks Shanghainese, which is a relief, but I don’t think I shouldtell him the truth— that I’ve come to find my father but I have no cluewhere he is precisely or how to locate him.“I’m here to help build the People’s Republic of China,” I answer.He asks for my papers, and his eyes widen when he sees my U.S.passport. He looks at me and then back at the photo. “It’s good you camethis year instead of last year. Chairman Mao says that Overseas Chineseno longer have to apply for entry permits. All I need is something thatshows your identity, and you’ve given me that. Would you consider yourselfstateless?”“Stateless?”“It’s illegal to travel in China as a U.S. citizen,” he says. “So are youstateless?”I’m nineteen. I don’t want to seem like an uninformed and ignorantrunaway. I don’t want to confess that I don’t exactly know what statelessmeans.“I’ve come to China in response to the call for patriotic Chinese fromthe United States to serve the people,” I say, reciting things I learned inmy club in Chicago. “I want to contribute to humanity and help with nationalreconstruction!”“All right then,” the inspector says.He drops my passport in a drawer and locks it. That alarms me.“When will I get my passport back?”“You won’t.”It never occurred to me that I could be giving up my rights should Iever want to leave China and return to the United States. I feel a doorswing shut and lock behind me. What will I do later if I want to leave andI don’t have the key? Then my mother’s and aunt’s faces flash before meand all the tumultuous and sad emotions of our last days together bubbleup again. I’ll never go back. Never.“All personal luggage for Overseas Chinese must be searched,” the inspectorstates, pointing to a sign that reads, customs procedure governingpreferential treatment of personal luggage accompanying overseaschinese. “We’re seeking contraband items and clandestine remittances offoreign currency.”I open my bag, and he paws through the contents. He confiscates mybras, which might be amusing if I weren’t so surprised and scared. Mypassport and bras?He gives me a stern look. “If the matron were here, she’d take the oneyou’re wearing. Reactionary clothing has no place in the New China.Please throw out the offending item as soon as possible.” He closes mysuitcase and shoves it aside. “Now, how much money have you broughtwith you? You’ll be assigned to a work unit, but for now we can’t let youenter the country unless you have a way to support yourself.”I hand him my wallet. He takes half of my dollars and pockets them.I’m glad I have most of my money in my underwear. Then the inspectorscrutinizes me, taking in my dotted swiss shift, which I now realize mayhave been a mistake. He tells me to stay where I am. When he leaves, Iworry that this will be a repeat of what happened in Hong Kong, exceptwhere would they send me now? Maybe Joe and my uncle were right.Maybe something really bad is about to happen to me. Sweat begins totrickle down the small of my back.The inspector returns back with several more men dressed in thesame drab green uniforms. They wear enthusiastic smiles. They call metong chih. It means comrade but with the connotation that you are a personof the same spirit, goals, and ambitions. Hearing the word makes me feelmuch better. See, I tell myself, you had nothing to worry about. They huddletogether with me in the middle so our picture can be taken, which explainsthe delays earlier. Next they show me a wall with framed photos ofwhat they tell me are some of the people who’ve entered China throughthis office. I see mostly men, a couple of women, and a few families. Andthey aren’t all Chinese. Some are Caucasians. Where they’re from, I can’ttell, although from their dress they don’t appear to be Americans. Maybethey’re from Poland, East Germany, or some other country in the EasternBloc. Soon my photo will be on the wall too.Then the inspectors ask where I’ll be staying. That stumps me. Theysee my uncertainty and exchange worried— suspicious— looks.“You need to tell us where you’ll be staying before we can let youleave here,” the chief inspector says.I tilt my head down and peer up at them, suggesting I’m innocent andhelpless. I learned this expression from my aunt on a movie set years ago.“I’m looking for my father,” I confide, hoping they’ll feel sorry forme. “My mother took me away from China before I was born. Now I’vecome home to my right place.” I haven’t lied up to this point, but I needtheir assistance. “I want to live with my father and help him build thecountry, but my mother refused to tell me where to find him. She’s becometoo American.” I crinkle my face at that last word as though it’s themost detestable thing to be on earth.“What kind of worker is he?” the chief inspector asks.“He’s an artist.”“Ah, good,” he says. “A cultural worker.” The men rapidly discuss thepossibilities. Then the chief inspector says, “Go to the All- China ArtWorkers’ Association. I think they just call it the Artists’ Association now,Shanghai branch. They supervise all cultural workers. They’ll know exactlywhere to find him.”He writes down directions, draws a simple map, and tells me that theArtists’ Association is within walking distance. The men wish me luck,and then I leave the processing shed and step onto the Bund and into asea of people who look just like me. Los Angeles Chinatown was a smallenclave, and there weren’t that many Chinese at the University ofChicago. This is more Chinese than I’ve seen altogether in my life. Awave of pleasure ripples through me.I stand on a pedestrian walkway that seems almost like a park edgingthe river. Before me is a street filled with masses of people on bicycles.It’s just noon, so maybe everyone is on lunch break, but I can’t be sure.Across the street, huge buildings— heavier, grander, and broader thanwhat I’m used to in Los Angeles— sweep along the Bund, following thecurve of the Whangpoo. Turning back to the river, I see Chinese navalships and cargo ships of every shape and size. Dozens upon dozens ofsampans bob on the river like so many water bugs. Junks float past withtheir sails aloft. What seems like thousands of men— stripped to theirwaists, with light cotton trousers rolled up to the knees— carry bundlesof cotton, baskets filled with produce, and huge crates on and off boats.Everyone and everything seems to be either coming or going.I glance at the map to get my bearings, adjust my suitcase in my hand,make my way through the crowds to the curb, and wait for the bicyclesto stop to let me cross. They don’t stop. And there’s no streetlight. All thewhile I’m being bumped and pushed by the ceaseless flow of pedestrians.I watch others step into the herds of bicycles and daringly cross thestreet. The next time someone steps off the curb, I follow close behind,hoping I’ll be safe in his wake.As I head up Nanking Road, I can’t help making comparisons betweenShanghai and Chinatown, where most of the people were fromCanton, in Kwangtung province in the south of China. My family’s originallyfrom Kwangtung too, but my mother and aunt grew up in Shanghai.They always said the food was sweeter and the clothes were morefashionable in Shanghai. The city was more enchanting— with clubs anddancing, late night strolls along the Bund, and one more thing: laughter.I rarely heard my mother laugh when I was little, but she used to tell storiesof giggling with Auntie May in their bedroom, exchanging jokeswith handsome young men, and laughing at the sheer joy of being in theexact right place— the Paris of Asia— at the exact right moment— beforethe Japanese invaded and my grandmother, mother, and aunt had to fleefor their lives.What I’m seeing now certainly isn’t the Shanghai my mother andaunt told me about. I don’t see glamorous women walking along thestreets, perusing department store windows for the latest fashions sentfrom Paris or Rome. I don’t see foreigners who act like they own theplace, but Chinese are everywhere. They’re all in a hurry, and there’snothing stylish about them. The women wear cotton trousers and shortsleevedcotton blouses or plain blue suits. Now that I’m away from theriver, the men are better dressed than the dockworkers. They wear graysuits— what my dad derisively called Mao suits. No one looks too thin ortoo fat. No one looks too rich, and I don’t see any of the beggars or rickshawpullers that my mother and aunt always complained about.There’s only one problem. I can’t find the Artists’ Association.Shanghai is a latticework of streets, and soon I’m completely twistedaround. I turn down byways and into alleys. I end up in courtyards anddead ends. I ask for directions, but people shove past me or ogle me forthe stranger I am. They’re afraid, I think, to talk to someone who looksso out of place. I enter a couple of shops to get help, but everyone saysthey’ve never heard of the Artists’ Association. When I show them mymap, they look at it, shake their heads, and then ungraciously push meout of their shops.After what seems like hours of being rejected, pointedly ignored, orjostled by crowds, I realize I’m totally lost. I’m also starved and woozyfrom the heat, and I’m starting to get scared. I mean really, really scared,because I’m in an unfamiliar city halfway around the world from anyonewho knows me and people are staring at me because I look so alien in mystupid dotted swiss shift and white sandals. What am I doing here?I’ve got to hold myself together. I really do. Think! I’m going to needa hotel. I’m going to need to return to the Bund for a fresh start. First,though, I need something to eat and drink.I find my way back to Nanking Road and after a short walk come to ahuge park, where I see a couple of vendor carts. I buy some salty cakesstuffed with minced pork and chopped greens wrapped in a piece of waxpaper. At another cart, I buy tea served in a thick ceramic cup, and thensit on a nearby bench. The cake is delicious. The hot tea makes me sweateven more than I already am, but my mom always claimed that a cup oftea on a hot day has a cooling effect. It’s late afternoon and the temperaturehasn’t dropped at all. It’s still so humid— and without a hint of abreeze— that I really can’t tell if the tea has a cooling effect or not. Still,the food and the liquid revive me.This isn’t like any park I’ve been in before. It’s flat and appears to goon for blocks. A lot of it is paved so that it seems like it’s more for massmeetings than for play or recreation. Even so, there are plenty of grand-mothers minding small children. The babies are tied in slings to theirgrandmothers’ backs. The toddlers paddle about in pants split at thecrotch. I see one little girl squat and pee right on the ground! Some of theolder kids— not one of them over four or five— play with sticks. Onegrandmother sits on a bench across from me. Her granddaughter looksto be about three and is really cute, with her hair tied up in ribbons sothat it sprouts from her head like little mushrooms. The child keepspeeking at me. I must look like a clown to her. I wave. She hides her eyesin her grandmother’s lap. She peers at me again, I wave, and she buriesher face back in her grandmother’s lap. We go through this a few timesbefore the little girl wiggles her fingers in my direction.I take my ceramic cup back to the tea vendor, and when I return to thebench to get my suitcase, the little girl leaves the safety of her grandmotherand approaches me.“Ni hao ma?” I ask. “How are you?”The little girl giggles and runs back to her grandmother. I reallyshould be going, but the child is so charming. More than that, playingwith her gives me a sense that I belong and that everything will work out.She points at me and whispers to her grandmother. The old womanopens a bag, fishes around, and then places something in her granddaughter’stiny hand. The next thing I know, the little girl is back in frontof me, her arm fully outstretched, offering me a shrimp cracker.“Shie- shie.”The girl smiles at my thank- you. Then she climbs up next to me andstarts swinging her legs and jabbering about this and that. I thought I waspretty good at the Shanghai dialect, but I don’t understand her nearly aswell as I’d hoped. Finally, her grandmother comes over to where we’resitting.“You’ve met our disappointment,” she says. “Next time my husbandand I hope for a grandson.”I’ve heard things like this my entire life. I pat the little girl’s knee, agesture of solidarity.“You don’t look like you’re from Shanghai,” the old woman goes on.“Are you from Peking?”“I’m from far away,” I respond, not wanting to tell my whole story.“I’m here to visit my father, but I’m lost.”“Where do you need to go?”I show her my map.“I know where this is,” she says. “We could take you there, if you’dlike. It’s on our way home.”“I’d be very grateful.”She picks up her granddaughter, and I pick up my suitcase.A few minutes later, we reach the Artists’ Association. I thank the oldwoman. I look through my purse, find the last of a roll of Life Savers, andgive it to the little girl. She doesn’t know what to make of it.“It’s candy,” I explain. “A sweet for a sweet.” A memory of my auntsaying that to me gives me a sharp pang of anguish. I’ve come this far andstill my mother and aunt are with me.After a few more thank- yous, I turn away and enter the building. Iwas hoping for air- conditioning, but the lobby is just as oppressively hotas the street. A middle- aged woman sits behind a desk in the center ofthe room. She smiles and motions me to step forward.“I’m looking for an artist named Li Zhi- ge,” I say.The woman’s smile fades and blooms into a scowl. “You’re too late.The meeting is almost over.”I stand there, bewildered.“I’m not going to let you in there,” she snaps harshly, gesturing in annoyanceto a set of double doors.“You mean he’s in there? Right now?”“Of course, he’s in there!”My mother would say it’s fate that I should find my father so easily.But maybe it’s serendipity. Whatever it is, I’m lucky, even if it’s onlydumb luck. But I still don’t understand why the receptionist won’t letme in.“I need to see him,” I plead.Just then, the doors open and a group of people stream out.“There he is now,” the receptionist says with a sneer.She points to a tall man wearing wire- rimmed glasses. His hair israther long and falls in a loose mop across his forehead. He’s definitelythe right age— somewhere around forty- five— and strikingly handsome.He’s dressed in a Mao suit, but this one is different from the ones I sawon the street. It’s crisp and well cut, and the fabric looks richer. My fathermust be very famous and powerful, because the others follow closely behindhim, practically pushing him to the street.As they leave the building, I hurry after them. Once on the sidewalk,the others fall away, melting into the throng of pedestrians. Z.G. standsstill for a moment, looking up through the buildings to a patch of whitesky. Then he sighs, shakes his hands as though relieving stress, and beginsto walk. I follow him, still lugging my suitcase. What will happen ifI walk up and announce I’m his daughter? I don’t know him, but I sensethis isn’t a good moment. Even if I thought it was, I’m filled with apprehension.At one point he stops at an intersection, and I pause at his side.Surely he has to notice me since I look so different— after all, everyoneelse has noticed me— but he seems completely preoccupied. I should saysomething. Hello, you’re my father. I can’t do it. He glances at me, still registeringnothing, and then crosses the street.He turns onto a quieter lane. Official- looking buildings give way toapartments and little neighborhood shops. He walks for a few blocks,then swings onto a pedestrian walkway lined on both sides with prettyWestern- style, two- and three- story homes. I stay at the corner to watchwhere he goes. He passes the first three houses, and then he opens a lowpicket fence, enters a yard, climbs the stairs to the porch, and disappearsthrough the front door. I take a few steps onto the walkway. I see patchesof lawn, cymbidiums in bloom, and climbing vines. Bicycles lean againstporches and laundry hangs on poles that jut from windows. The housesthemselves are lovely— with tile roofs, nicely painted façades, and irongrillwork in art deco patterns covering windows, as peek- throughs fordoors, and as decoration along the eaves and around mail slots.This isn’t how Joe and my professors described Red China. I expectedutilitarian Communist quarters or even an artist’s single room.Instead, my father lives in an elegant art deco house with a lovely garden.What does this say about him exactly?I take a deep breath, and then I climb the steps and ring the bell.

Editorial Reviews

“One of those hard-to-put down-until-four in-the-morning books . . . With each new novel, Lisa See gets better and better.”—Los Angeles Times “Once again, See’s research feels impeccable, and she has created an authentic, visually arresting world.”—The Washington Post “A stunningly researched epic about revolutionary-era China.”—Los Angeles  “See is a gifted historical novelist. She illuminates a turning point in Chinese history when people still remembered the inequities of the feudal caste system, and in some cases embodied them. . . . See is unflinching in her willingness to describe it all.”—San Francisco Chronicle “See’s fans will be glad to read more about Pearl, May and Joy, and See’s recurring themes of unbreakable family bonds and strong-willed women.”—The Oregonian