China Dolls: A Novel [NOOK Book]

Overview

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...
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China Dolls: A Novel

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Overview

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
 
“A fascinating portrait of life as a Chinese-American woman in the 1930s and ’40s.”The New York Times Book Review
 
“A spellbinding portrait of a time burning with opportunity and mystery.”O: The Oprah Magazine
 
“See’s latest novel, China Dolls, is her most penetrating since Snow Flower and the Secret Fan.”The Seattle Times
 
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
 
“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)
 
“See’s many fans will . . . enjoy watching each protagonist’s true story unfold. . . . Colorful and fascinating historical touches tie the story together perfectly and form an exquisite backdrop.”Library Journal

China Dolls mines a fascinating part of our cultural history through the story of a trio of women who become a complex constant in one another’s lives even as the world serves up painful transformation. Lisa See gets so much just right here. You’ll want to dive right in.”—Paula McLain, New York Times bestselling author of The Paris Wife
 
“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, New York Times bestselling author of Songs of Willow Frost


From the Hardcover edition.
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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble

This latest novel by Lisa See (Shanghai Girls; Dreams of Girls) takes readers back to pre-World War II San Francisco and introduces them to Grace Lee, Ruby Tom, and Helen Fong, three young Chinese-American nightclub performers who, despite pronounced difference in backgrounds and personalities, forge resilient friendships. Told from the distinct perspectives of each woman and spanning a full half century, China Dolls presents a historical epoch with a multilayered richness. A perfect vacation carry-along. Editor's recommendation.

Library Journal
04/15/2014
The Chinese American nightclub era comes to life in See's (Snow Flower and the Secret Fan) latest novel, which revolves around three young women coming of age in San Francisco during World War II. Grace, Helen, and Ruby meet and become instant friends while auditioning as showgirls at the Forbidden City, a Chinese nightclub and cabaret. But then the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor happens, and everything changes. The girls soon discover that they each carry secrets that will shake one another to the core. As the world slips further into war and tensions regarding Asian Americans rise, each woman's livelihood, heart, and strength will be tested. Can the seductive Ruby, dutiful Helen, and "white-washed" Grace find a way to keep their friendship alive? VERDICT While this novel is definitely slower paced than the author's prior works, See's many fans will still enjoy watching each protagonist's true story unfold; they will also be intrigued by the vivacity of the "Chop Suey Circuit." These colorful and fascinating historical touches tie the story together perfectly and form an exquisite backdrop for the adventures of the three friends. [See Prepub Alert, 12/16/13.]—Chelsie Harris, San Diego Cty. Lib.
From the Publisher
Advance praise for China Dolls
 
China Dolls mines a fascinating part of our cultural history through the story of a trio of women who become a complex constant in one another’s lives even as the world serves up painful transformation. Lisa See gets so much just right here. You’ll want to dive right in.”—Paula McLain, New York Times bestselling author of The Paris Wife
 
“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, New York Times bestselling author of Songs of Willow Frost
 
“In the beginning of See’s stellar ninth book, three young women, Grace, Helen, and Ruby, meet and form an unlikely but strong bond in San Francisco in 1938. . . . The story alternates between their viewpoints, with each woman’s voice strong and dynamic, developing a multilayered richness as it progresses. The depth of See’s characters and her winning prose make this book a wonderful journey through love and loss.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

Praise for Dreams of Joy
 
“Astonishing . . . one of those hard-to-put-down-until-four-in-the-morning books . . . a story with characters who enter a reader’s life, take up residence, and illuminate the myriad decisions and stories that make up human history.”Los Angeles Times
 
“[Lisa] See is a gifted historical novelist. . . . [In Dreams of Joy,] there are no clear heroes or villains, just people who often take wrong turns to their own detriment but for the good of the story, leading to greater strength of character and more durable relationships.”—San Francisco Chronicle
 
“A heartwarming story of heroic love between a mother and daughter . . . No writer has better captured the voice and heart of Chinese culture.”Bookreporter
 
Praise for Shanghai Girls
 
“See’s emotional themes are powerful . . . the bonds of sisterhood [and] the psychological journey of becoming an American.”—The Washington Post
 
“If you’re looking for one of those wonderful ‘take me someplace exotic and unfamiliar’ books . . . you won’t do better than Shanghai Girls.”—The Dallas Morning News
 
“Readers truly know and care about these women within a few pages.”—The Miami Herald

Library Journal
01/01/2014
In 1938, three friends are competing for a single job as showgirl on San Francisco's Chop Suey Circuit, the glittery underworld of all-Asian revues. Chinese American Grace has fled her Midwestern home and beatings by her father, Helen's family has long resided in San Francisco's Chinatown, and, crucially, Ruby is Japanese but passing for Chinese. With the attack on Pearl Harbor, Japanese Americans are being interned, among them Ruby. Did one of her friends betray her? With a 12-city tour.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780679644163
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 6/3/2014
  • Sold by: Random House
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 416
  • Sales rank: 1,484
  • File size: 3 MB

Meet the Author

Lisa See
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.

Biography

At first glance, Lisa See would not seem to be a likely candidate for literary voice of Chinese-American women. With her flaming red hair and freckled complexion, she hardly adheres to any stereotypical conceptions of what an Asian-American woman should look like, however, her familial background has given her roots in Chinese culture that have fueled her eloquent, elegant, and exciting body of work.

See grew up in the Chinatown section of Los Angeles. Although she is only 1/8 Chinese, her upbringing provided her with a powerful connection to that fraction of herself. "I really grew up in this very traditional, old Chinese family," she revealed in an interview with Barnes & Noble.com. "It was very traditional, but also quite magical in a lot of ways, because I really was in a very different culture then how I looked."

See's Chinese background was not the only aspect of her family that affected the course her life has taken. She also comes from a long line of writers and novelists. Her somewhat morose relatives initially led her to believe that writing must be the result of suffering and pain, which turned her off from literary pursuits at first. Ironically, despite her strong family roots, See only decided to try her hand at writing as a means of embarking on a lifestyle without roots. "I knew three things," See said, "I never wanted to get married, I never wanted to have children, and I only wanted to live out of a suitcase. How am I gonna do it? And I was really thinking about it, and then one morning, I woke up, and it was truly like a light bulb went off—‘Oh, I could be a writer!' Many, many years later, here I am, married, I have children, [and] I am a writer."

In the wake of this unexpected epiphany, Lisa See began work on her first book On Gold Mountain: The One-Hundred-Year Odyssey of My Chinese-American Family. This highly detailed family history charted the events that led her great-grandfather Fong See to become the godfather of her Chinatown neighborhood and the 100-year-old patriarch of her family. See interviewed close to 100 of her relatives while researching the book that both gave her a clearer portrait of how her racially mixed family developed and broke her into the publishing business.

See then went on to explore other aspects of both Chinese and American culture via fiction. She followed her debut with a series of popular political thrillers set in China and featuring American attorney David Stark. Her novel Snow Flower and the Secret Fan abandons Stark and his pursuit of justice for the time being with a tale that reaches much further back into Chinese culture, and more specifically, the subordinate role women have traditionally played in that culture. This more personal novel scored See accolades from The Washington Post, The New York Times, Publisher's Weekly, and The School Library Journal, while also further solidifying her role as a significant Chinese-American writer. And See's Peony in Love (2007) is a jarring historical novel set against the backdrop of an early-17th-century Chinese opera

See's position in the Chinese-American community has also extended beyond her writing. She was honored by the Organization of Chinese American Women as National Woman of the Year in 2001 and is also responsible for designing a walking tour of her Chinatown home in L.A. Her devotion to that apparently-small, but actually-vast, 1/8 of her ethnicity proves that well-worn adage about never judging a book by looking at its cover.

Good To Know

In our interview, See shared lots of fun facts and anecdotes about herself, including:

"I asked my husband what he thought was an interesting fact about me, and he said that he always thought it was strange that when we first met I had to drink three cups of coffee before I got out of bed, but that after I got pregnant I never ever had another cup of coffee again. That didn't seem terribly exciting, so I asked my sister. She said that I take perverse pleasure in grossing people out, which I do. But this didn't seem very interesting either. I asked my mother and she remembered that I'd been a demon crawler and had once crawled away from the house, down to a busy boulevard, and was rescued by a couple of barbers. So I was a demon crawler and probably took ten years off my mother's life that day, but was it a fun fact? I've even asked some other people and they all have talked about my desire to travel and the scary places I have traveled alone. While I know that I'm a compulsive traveler, a lot of other people love to travel, so it still doesn't seem that unusual to me."

"I never wanted to be a writer. My mother and my grandfather were both writers. When I was a kid, they both took the position that writing was about suffering and pain, so you can see why I didn't want to be a writer. There came a time when I was about twenty and living in Greece, and I knew three things: I didn't want to get married, I didn't want to have children, and I only wanted to live out of a suitcase. But how was I going to support myself and how was this ever going to happen? One morning I woke up and it was like a light bulb went off: ‘Ah, I could be a writer.' Within twenty-four hours of returning back to the States I had my first two magazine assignments. But if you've been reading this at all closely, you know that I got married and had children. And thank God, because I would have been a pretty boring person and not a very good writer if I didn't have those three people in my life. But I still do love to live out of a suitcase and have been writing most of these answers on a plane from Shanghai to San Francisco."

"I think one of the strangest things about me is the way I read books. This dates back to when I started reading chapter books as a kid and continues to this day. I read the first 20 pages, then the last 20 pages. After that, the second 20 pages and the penultimate 20 pages. I read from front to back and from back to front until I meet in the middle. Why? I can't stand not knowing what happens to the characters. Will they be okay? Will they live? Will they get together? It doesn't take away from the suspense or ruin the story for me in any way. Not doing it would ruin the story because I would have to rush and I'd be so anxious that I wouldn't be able to do anything else until I was done."

"I'm a movie fanatic. I see more than 100 movies a year. Sometimes I'll see two or three movies in a day. Between this and reading books the way I do, I have a very good sense of plot. I can watch the first five minutes of any television show and the first ten minutes of just about any movie and tell you everything that will happen. It's very rare that I'm taken by complete surprise. But to me it isn't about the surprise. I'm just curious to see how things have been structured, if the right clues have been doled out, and if the right people will get together."

"I like to eat, but I don't like to cook. I'll eat anything and have—a low point would have to be the stir-fried pig penis in China—but there are only three things I won't eat: lima beans, brains, and kidneys. I hate exercise, but I love to play tennis, walk, and hike. I love stories in any form: film, books, song, and TV. Yes, I'm a real couch potato! I'm a nut for reality shows like ‘Survivor' and ‘American Idol.' My three favorite shows this season are ‘The OC,' ‘Lost,'and ‘Battlestar Gallactica.' And I'm a not-so-closet Trekkie. (Yes, I've even been to Star Trek conventions, but I blame that on my sons.) For so long I would say I hated sci-fi, and then I finally realized that it was one of my favorite genres. Go figure. My favorite way to unwind? That would have to be sleeping, hands down. I love to sleep and I take it very seriously. We recently got a Tempur-Pedic mattress and it's my favorite purchase ever. I long to go to bed and feel enveloped."

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    1. Hometown:
      Los Angeles, California
    1. Date of Birth:
      February 18, 1955
    2. Place of Birth:
      Paris, France
    1. Education:
      B.A., Loyola Marymount University, 1979
    2. Website:

Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 33 )
Rating Distribution

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(18)

4 Star

(8)

3 Star

(3)

2 Star

(3)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 33 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 5, 2014

    Great read

    Strong character development and very educational details on this time in American history.

    7 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 4, 2014

    I Also Recommend:

    I am a fan of Lisa See¿s books. Each character narrates her stor

    I am a fan of Lisa See’s books. Each character narrates her story with her own flavor which makes the story even more realistic and colorful. Each character comes from diverse backgrounds. Their compelling stories set in pre-WW 11 era, San Francisco, and cover’s their full stories from young women until many years later when they finish with their long familiar and enduring friendships. I enjoyed the book very much and would definitely recommend it to those who appreciate historical facts and real life deeo valued friendships. All of Lisa See’s books are wonderful.

    7 out of 9 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 9, 2014

    more from this reviewer

    4.5 stars and a big thumbs up for Lisa See's newest effort.  Li

    4.5 stars and a big thumbs up for Lisa See's newest effort. 

    Like many readers, my introduction to author Lisa See's work was with Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, and like most readers, I instantly fell in love. The book was beautifully written, the story was wonderful. Since reading Snow Flower, I have read most of the rest of Lisa See's work, and own copies of them all. To say that I am a fan of her work just doesn't quite say it all. 




    I recently read her new offering, China Dolls, and I am glad to say that I was not disappointed. China Dolls tells the story of the rise of Asian entertainers on the nightclub circuit during the late 1930s through the mid 1940s, through the lives of Grace, Helen, and Ruby, three separate women who were Asian entertainers during that time. It is in the way that the lives of these three women alternately intersect and diverge that the story of what it was like to be an entertainer on the "Chop Suey Circuit" was like.




    One of the things that I have always loved about Lisa See's books is the way she uses her characters as the main story-telling agent in her books. In China Dolls, each of the three main characters represent an amalgamation of people that lived in that time in history. Grace is a Chinese born American whose parents moved to the Midwest to raise their daughter as far from other Chinese as possible. Helen is also an American born Chinese, but her parents are living the traditional Chinese lifestyle in a secluded compound in San Francisco's Chinatown. Ruby, on the other hand, is the girl who wants to be totally American in every way, using American slang and dressing American whenever she can, but who is hiding more of a secret that just her wish to be American and not Asian. I have to say, I am continually amazed at how Lisa See is able to come up with such vibrant, realistic characters that effectively represent a section of Asian culture and history time and time again. Her characters are so well crafted that they become very real to me, and stay with me long after I have read the book. 




    Another strong point of the book, and Lisa See's writing in general, is her excellent knowledge of the history and culture of the subject that she is writing about. Her research into the subject is always spot on. In the case of China Dolls, the main nightclub in San Francisco, The Forbidden City, really existed, showcasing first Chinese entertainers, and later Asian entertainers of all kinds well into the 1950s. Many of the characters in the book were actual owners or entertainers at the nightclub, although in many cases she has changed their names. Other characters are an amalgamation of several entertainers from that time. In addition, the lives of the women outside the nightclub are spot on and truly represent what it was like to live at that time.




    The only thing that felt a bit off in this book, though, was the intense level of competition between the women. Over time, I have become used to the deep and intense friendships between the characters in Lisa See's books. The kind of friendships that, even during fights or disagreements, never really waver. In this light, I was not really prepared for the amount of discord between the three main characters of this story. At times it seemed that Grace, Helen, and Ruby were always trying to one-up each other, or in some cases, actually turn each other against the others. As characters, they were much more manipulative and shallow than what I am used to in Lisa See's characters, and each one was a diva in her own way. In retrospect, though, I feel that their behavior is justifiable to the story and culture that they represent. After all, the entertainment business has always been a bit dog eat dog, and being in a section of it where the jobs were fewer and competition was higher would only highlight that type of behavior. 




    Although this was not my favorite Lisa See book (that would be Shanghai Girls), that fact that I am giving a 4.5 rating to a book that is not my favorite speaks volumes. Lisa See has yet to disappoint me, and China Dolls is no exception to that rule. In fact, I stayed up one night until 4am to finish it, and then was disappointed because it was over and I read it so fast. I highly recommend this book for fans of Lisa See and fans of Chinese American culture. You will not be sorry.




    Additional Note: I was excited to find that The Forbidden City nightclub, which played a central part in this story, was actually the inspiration of the musical Flower Drum Song, which is my favorite musical of all time. 




    Thanks to Random House publishers and Edelweiss for making a copy of this book available in exchange for my review.

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 7, 2014

    Disappointed

    Does not compare to her earlier style of writing. Did not feel a connection with the characters. The relationship did not ring true between the three main women in the story. Ms See's earlier novels had more depth.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 30, 2014

    I have read all of Lisa See's books and was waiting for this one

    I have read all of Lisa See's books and was waiting for this one. Not as good as her others. I just didn't believe the characters and their friendship. It felt to me like this one was cranked out for the money. Read On Gold Mountain first if you're new to this author. That book is great and true.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 15, 2014

    For me the most interesting feature of "China Dolls"

    For me the most interesting feature of "China Dolls" was the historical background and the personalization of the events during the WW 2 years. I really didn't find their relationships to each other believable, and I didn't feel a connection to any of the characters myself. This one was a little disappointing for me.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 11, 2014

    I Also Recommend:

    Excellent!!!  This book builds.  The characters blossom and the

    Excellent!!!  This book builds.  The characters blossom and the story becomes richer.  
    I highly recommend this book.  
    Well written, unusual settings and riveting time period.  
    And, again, this book slowly drags you in and it is well worth it!!!!  

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 10, 2014

    While not my favorite of Lisa See's novels, "China Dolls&q


    While not my favorite of Lisa See's novels, "China Dolls" is engaging with strong character development and enticing storyline.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 8, 2014

    omg so excited

    Omg cant wait to read the booksounds like an amazing book
    Fate9873

    1 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 24, 2014

    Loved it

    Lisa See outstanding wonderfully written.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 20, 2014

    Disappointing after reading all of her other amazing books. I l

    Disappointing after reading all of her other amazing books. I love Lisa See. Her books got me back into reading because they were so well written. I enjoy the historical components of her novels and the way she weaves the story and characters together. China Dolls left me feeling flat. I kept turning pages expecting it to get more interesting and detailed like her other books, but it never really left the ground Hope she does better next time.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 9, 2014

    Must read!!!!

    Loved, Loved Loved, this book ! Really a great read. I felt like I was learning history. Highly recommend. Cant wait to read more of Lisa See's books.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 7, 2014

    Compelling!

    If you love Lisa See's books, you will enjoy this one, too.

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  • Posted July 4, 2014

    A must read

    I have read just about everything Lisa See has written and was thrilled to be able to get a signed copy from B&N. The characters are vividly drawn and the scene descriptions made me feel that I was right there with them. I learned so much about the time period and especially about life in the internment camps during WWII. I hated for the story to end and can't wait until Lisa publishes another one! This would be an excellent book for discussion by a book club.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 4, 2014

    Just Okay

    After having read & thoroughly enjoying reading Lisa See's Shanghai Girls & Dreams of Joy I was disappointed in this novel. The characters were not all that interesting.

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  • Posted July 4, 2014

    IT IS THE WAY WE WERE

    "Every mile took me farther from Plain City, Ohio, where I'd been a flyspeck on the wallpaper of small-town life."—Grace, 'A Measly Girl,' page 9

    Her ongoing proclivities to poke and probe the vagaries and inanities in the relationships between 'sisters'—of both flesh or friendship—notwithstanding, Lisa See is one of my favorite storytellers. Her writing can invoke nostalgia for times and places never experienced by the reader. I wasn't there—but I could wish I had been.

    Lisa's latest novel, CHINA DOLLS, is a story told in the voices of three 'oriental' girls—Grace, Helen and Ruby—from widely differing backgrounds, cultures, and experiences; who come together in San Francisco, and form fast friendships, in the heady days and nights of the nightclub whirl in the late 1930s. All three are amazingly interesting characters, surrounded by interesting, exciting, and 'real' people, places and events.

    Recommendation: If you've ever had a long-time friendship, you'll probably relate to, and enjoy reading this story. Especially if you also enjoy historical settings of the not-so-long-ago.

    "It was a crime for a Caucasian to 'intermarry with any person of The Ethiopian or black race, Maylay or brown race, or Mongolian or yellow race.' [In 1930s/40s California, Nevada, and in many other states]"—page 185

    "But teaching a lesson isn't part of friendship. Neither is being cruel."—Ruby, page 144

    NOOKbook edition, 366 pages

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  • Posted July 3, 2014

    Except for On Gold Mountain, this is my favorite of Lisa See's b

    Except for On Gold Mountain, this is my favorite of Lisa See's books. It's a great story about three Asian-American women, all raised in very different circumstances in the United States, how they became friends, and how their friendships grew and changed. The theatrical setting was unique and very interesting.  I was especially wowed by the pages and pages of acknowledgements and references. I think it will outsell all of her other books. 

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 30, 2014

    Highly recommended

    This book is one of the best books I've read in a long time. Lisa See writes wonderful book. I suggest you read all of them

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  • Posted June 28, 2014

    A Good Read!

    I found this book highly interesting as it tells what life was like for Asians during the outbreak of world war2 and what they had to go thru just to live a normal life,it also tells about three young Asian girls who are dancers and the friendship that stays with them for most of their lifes.

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  • Posted June 27, 2014

    Lisa See does it again!

    A triangle of friendships in the bygone days of night clubs. Lisa See has caught my attention, again, with her latest China Dolls. An interesting and very informational story about being an Asian woman in the 1930s-1940s, trying to make a break in the night club scene, from three different perspectives.
    I've enjoyed all of See's books, this one included.
    Bonus: author signed copy!

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