Night of Many Dreamsby Gail Tsukiyama, Anna Fields (Read by)
As World War II threatens their comfortable life in Hong Kong, young Joan and Emma Lew escape with their family to spend the war years in Macao. When they return home, Emma has developed a deep interest in travel and new experiences, while Joan has turned to movies and thoughts of romance to escape the problems of ordinary life. As the girls become women, each follows a path different from what her family expects. But through periods of great happiness and sorrow, the sisters learn that their close-knit familytheir parents, their independent Aunt Go, and Foon, the family cookis a source of strength as they pursue their separate dreams.
“Delicately fashioned . . . Evocative.” The New York Times Book Review
“Tsukiyama tells a quietly powerful and understated story of women finding their way in the world, and the strength they derive from family ties.” San Francisco Chronicle
“Grows in richness as it proceeds, a paean to the sustaining pleasures of family.” Booklist
“Tsukiyama writes with great sensory detail, allowing her reader to touch, taste, and feel the world she creates.” Library Journal
“With unexpected poignancy . . . Tsukiyama skillfully demonstrates how the strength of family bonds can provide spiritual sustenance.” Publishers Weekly
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Read an Excerpt
Night of Many Dreams
By Gail Tsukiyama
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 1998 Gail Tsukiyama
All rights reserved.
The Floating Family — 1940
All the other women in the Lew family were beautiful. Emma saw it time and time again, in the striking faces of her mother and sister, in the old yellow-edged photos of her ancestors. The difference that set her apart from Mah-mee and her older sister, Joan, haunted Emma. It wasn't that she was ugly, but in photos of herself, even as a baby, she saw a too-large nose, a too-round face, that made her feel awkward and conspicuous. She sometimes wondered what kind of fate had caused generations of Lew beauty to be withheld from her.
Emma sat at her father's desk in her parents' bedroom watching her sister get dressed to go out to collect money. Ever since she was a little girl, Joan had tried to appear older by borrowing her mother's clothes and cosmetics, disrupting the neat row of jars and bottles that lined the dresser, upsetting Mah-mee when she was home. Now fourteen, Joan worked as carefully as an artist, darkening the mole on the left side of her upper lip, then applying makeup and dressing so perfectly, Emma thought Joan must be the most beautiful young woman in Hong Kong.
Emma glanced at the silver-framed photo sitting on one side of the desk. She leaned forward and pressed her fingertips against the two girls in the black-and-white snapshot taken almost two years ago in front of their house. In it, Joan was twelve, five years older and at least a foot taller. Emma looked hard at herself. Her flat features stared back. She stood skinny and pale, dressed in a Western-style cotton dress with puffed sleeves and a Peter Pan collar, while Joan looked beautiful in a sleeveless silk cheungsam that Emma remembered had been the color of jade. Emma recalled posing for the camera, standing on her toes so she would appear taller, leaning lightly against Joan so she wouldn't fall. Still, they looked more like acquaintances than sisters. Ever since the picture was taken, Emma had tried to catch up, as if the years that divided her from Joan were simply a space she could cross over.
Ba ba had snapped the photo during the summer of 1938, a few months before the Japanese invaded Canton. Not long after the invasion, Joan had started collecting receipts from the shops and department stores that owed money to their father. Emma could tell by the relaxed smile on Joan's face then, that the photo had been taken before these monthly money-collecting days began. Even the mole on Joan's upper lip appeared faded, less serious now.
Until 1939, their father's trading company, Ten Thousand Profits, had done very well. From his main office in Japan, he exported everything — bolts of silk, lacquerware, antiques — to Hong Kong and throughout China. While their father and mother traveled to Japan and China on business, sometimes for six months at a time, Emma and Joan stayed in Hong Kong with their gold-toothed servant, Foon. They were also looked after by their mother's first cousin Auntie Go, who lived two houses away.
Not until her father's business began to falter did Emma really understand that a war had begun. Salvaging his company meant staying longer in Japan, so Ba ba had decided to send out fourteen-year-old Joan to collect his outstanding debts. Ten Thousand Profits had always been a family-run business. In the absence of sons, Joan was his only choice. Besides, she already knew some of the shop owners through longtime family dealings. Any money Joan collected was used for household expenses in Hong Kong. More often than not, they barely scraped by from month to month.
Emma wondered how Joan could be so brave. For almost a year, on every last Thursday of the month, Emma had sat outside their house and waited nervously for her return. Emma worried incessantly about money. In the beginning, if Joan returned empty-handed, Emma actually felt physically ill, a dizziness filling her head that made her pause. But nowadays, when Joan finally came into view, walking slowly up the slant of the hill, Emma looked hard for the slightest sign of how her day had been. She relaxed when she saw Joan's familiar smile, the darkened mole, knowing that however anxious she was about the money, at least her sister was safely back home.
Emma glanced up from the photo as her sister unscrewed the lid from a jar. Joan sat in front of the mirror gently patting makeup onto her cheeks and forehead. Emma couldn't remember how many Thursdays she had sat watching the ritual of Joan's preparations for collecting debts. Most of the time, Emma loved to sit on the red and green silk-embroidered bedspread, which was forbidden to her when her mother was home. And she loved smelling the sweet scents that reminded her of department stores. While Emma would never waste so much time in front of a mirror, she watched mesmerized as her sister sat gazing at her own reflection, outlining the red lipstick, darkening her eyebrows into pencil-thin half-moons, dabbing on Mah-mee's Shalimar perfume. The final touch in Joan's attempt to appear older was to put on their mother's black cashmere coat with the beaver collar, matching black gloves, and a hat. When Joan was finally satisfied with her creation, she sighed softly, then turned around like an actress prepared to go onstage and said in a deep, throaty voice, "I'm veady to go."
"Garbo?" Emma guessed, continuing a game they'd been playing for years.
Joan laughed. "Right. You're getting good, or else I'm getting better." She rolled her eyes and tilted her head back, imitating a scene from the movie Camille, which they'd seen together.
Ordinarily, Emma would watch and remain quiet. But on this particular clear and cool February morning, before Joan had a chance to turn away from the mirror, Emma caught her eye and asked, "Can I go with you?"
Emma swallowed and waited for an answer. She had been wanting to ask Joan for months, hoping she could be of some help.
Joan glanced back at her, then adjusted her hat in the mirror once more. "You're too young."
"I'm almost ten," Emma argued. "Besides, don't you want the company?"
Joan was silent a moment, staring at her little sister's reflection in the mirror. "I guess, just this once," she finally answered. "But keep quiet. Let me do the talking."
Emma held lightly on to the back of Mah-mee's black coat as Joan walked confidently through the crowd and down Queen's Road. Emma felt dizzy with the blur of passing faces, and proud that most of them were watching Joan. Years from now, she knew she'd remember the soft feel of the cashmere, and the sweet, thick scent of Joan's perfume, which drifted through the cool air, protecting them.
They turned onto a small street and entered a crowded shop filled with ornately decorated vases, mother-of-pearl-inlaid jewelry boxes, woven rugs from India. Emma loved all the muted colors of saffron, orange, and brown, which reminded her of desert tombs, the intricate black and gold designs that carried hidden meanings. The shop smelled of sweet incense and faraway places. She moved closer to Joan and took hold of her hand as the spell was quickly broken by the high, excited voice of the shop owner, who lashed out at them. He thrust the bill back in Joan's face.
"I have no money!" he cried. "Look around you, my stock hasn't moved from the store! Those Japanese devils have scared everyone away from buying! You be good girls now. Go home to tell your ba ba I will pay him as soon as I can."
Emma watched the man closely. He was thin, with a high forehead and a full head of very black hair. He smiled insincerely as he inched them across the crowded room toward the door.
Joan stopped, refusing to be moved farther. She turned around and said in a strong, self-assured voice, "If you can't give Mr. Lew money now, he will take something as collateral until you can pay him."
Emma let out a gasp and froze behind Joan. How did she find the courage to say such things? Emma had always been quiet, unlike Joan, preferring to study, read, and draw. Forever with a book in her hand, Emma would have been heartbroken not to be among the top three in her class.
The shopkeeper remained silent for a moment. His eyes narrowed as he looked at them. Then, in a lower, more controlled voice, he asked, "What do you want?"
Emma stepped back, but Joan slowly took off her gloves and moved around the store like a cat. Emma held her breath and watched her sister, who had always loved shopping. When Joan spied what she wanted, she stopped and smiled, then turned back to face the shop owner. "That," she said, pointing to a vase sitting under a glass case on a polished table.
"Are you crazy? That's worth twice as much as I owe your father!"
"Then I'm sure you'll want it back as soon as possible." Joan's calm, sultry voice never flinched. "We'll send someone to pick it up this afternoon."
When they finally left the shop, Emma was floating on air. She'd never been prouder of Joan. She thought of the Chinese movie Maiden in Armour, which was one of Joan's current favorites. It told the story of Hua Mulan, the lady general who had disguised herself as a man and led a frontier Chinese army to defeat the Mongols. Joan had done no less, Emma was certain. She let her body relax against her sister's and they walked triumphantly down the street in the direction of the Wing On department store.
By the end of the afternoon, Emma was tired. And she could tell Joan had lost much of her fortitude. Her shoulders slumped forward, and Mah-mee's black cashmere suddenly looked too large on her. If she failed to collect enough money to carry them through the month, she would have to wire their father in Japan, mumbling to herself that she had let down the family.
At other stores they visited, Emma had remained in cramped waiting rooms stacked high with boxes and papers, while Joan cleared her throat, straightened her stance, and entered one office after another. Through the flimsy walls, Emma could hear Joan's strong, determined Joan Crawford voice, followed by a man's laughter, then words that fell hard and flat when the door opened again.
"What are you doing collecting money?" the men would spit out. "You're much too beautiful. You should be in the movies!" In the doorway, they handed Joan their cards, with promises of money as soon as possible.
As Joan and Emma walked home, crowds pushed against them. In the past few months, Emma had seen so many refugees from China pouring into Hong Kong that she could barely walk down the street without coming upon entire families living out of cardboard boxes, begging with empty wooden bowls. She was glad for the cooler winter months that allowed the crowds of refugees to breathe. Now, she kept her head bowed low and tried to avoid bumping into people who appeared to be deliberately blocking her way. The high, crying voices of the vendors rang out unrelentingly. She could feel Joan's exhaustion. Even her Shalimar seemed stale.
"Can we stop here a minute?" Joan asked, her voice sounding young and familiar again.
She pulled lightly on Emma's sleeve, then pointed to a small, crowded shop. Emma waited just inside the doorway, pressed up against a wall to avoid getting in the way. She never took her eyes off Joan, who, she knew, waited anxiously every month to buy the latest Chinese and Hollywood movie magazines with lucky money she'd saved from the Chinese New Year. Now, Joan's face finally relaxed as she leaned forward to pick up each precious copy. On their slick covers, Emma could see the handsome, smiling faces of Gary Cooper and Ronald Colman. She watched her slim, elegant sister pay for the magazines, then felt Joan grab her hand and happily pull her through the noisy crowds until they reached home.
As they made their way back up the hill, Emma saw a small, thin figure pacing to and fro outside the front door of their gray-stone, two-story building on Conduit Road. From the distance, in a black tunic and pants, she resembled any other servant, but as they approached, Emma recognized Foon's high forehead and dark, intelligent eyes.
"Is anything wrong?" Emma asked. It was unusual to find Foon waiting for them.
"Your mah-mee has returned a week early," Foon warned.
Emma turned toward Joan, who stood stone still, clutching the movie magazines to her chest. Emma felt Joan's eyes rest heavily upon her. Both knew that their days would change now, again filling with the sharp, efficient click of the mah-jongg tiles as their mother socialized and planned Joan's future. Emma was still young enough to escape Mah-mee's ambitions, so all the attention was focused solely on Joan. Over and over again, Emma heard how Joan's good looks and family connections could easily reward her with the kind of husband and life she deserved, and Mah-mee had taken it upon herself to see to this. The only one who dared to speak up to Mah-mee was Auntie Go, but she was often busy with her struggling knitting business.
Joan turned to Emma and tried to smile. "We better go in, Mah-mee's waiting for us."
Emma nodded, her throat dry. She knew that Joan was thinking that with Mah-mee back home, everything was different. Now, their lives would be arranged and calculated. It always felt as if they were trading one life for another. Emma reached over and grabbed on to Joan's sleeve as they climbed the stone steps to their second-floor flat.
Emma glanced into their large, antique-filled living room, then beyond, to the opened double doors that led out to the terrace. Mah-mee wasn't there. She peeked into the dining room, dominated by a large round table and chairs. Then she and Joan hurried down the hall, past both of their rooms, following the thick trail of Mah-mee's perfume.
They rushed to greet her when they found their mother unpacking in her room. Mah-mee looked up quickly from her suitcase when she saw them coming. She was wearing a maroon silk cheungsam that Emma thought made her look particularly beautiful.
"Mah-mee!" she and Joan said, almost in unison.
While Emma ran to hug her mother, Joan remained behind her, simply kissing Mah-mee lightly on the cheek when Emma moved out of the way.
"I thought I would come home earlier since I'm not sure when Ba ba will be finished with his business. He'll be home when he's through, and I was tired of waiting around. It's good to be home. How are you, moi-moi?" she said to Emma.
"I went to collect money with Joan today," she answered, smiling. In spite of all the changes, she was always happy to see her mother again.
"How did it go?" Mah-mee looked over Emma's head toward Joan.
"They say business is slow," Joan quickly answered.
"The devils! They take your father's merchandise and then tell us they have no money. They just don't want to pay their debts. It would be different if you were a son. They see a pretty young girl and they think they can take advantage. I told your ba ba it's not right to send you. A young girl like you shouldn't be worrying about anything except finding a good husband."
"She was able to get a nice vase," Emma volunteered.
"A vase doesn't put food on the table," Mah-mee snapped, throwing her silk stockings on the bed. "When your ba ba gets back, I'm going to put an end to this money collecting. How does it look for the Lew girls to be out begging for money, even if it is money owed to us. Your ba ba can go out and collect his own money!" Then Mah-mee calmed down and said, "Anyway, the Japanese are just about to put a stop to everything."
Emma swallowed hard, knowing that despite her mother's protests, nothing would really change. Whenever her father and mother were back in Hong Kong, Joan would return to what she loved most — the movies. Her dark eyes would gleam for hours every week as she watched Nancy Chan and Li Qinian, or Greta Garbo and Robert Taylor. Foon often waited for Joan after school in front of the King or Queen's Theatre to collect her books before the movies began. Emma tagged along whenever she could. During those two hours of movie magic, she saw Joan enraptured as she sucked on the small, salty-sweet dried plums or the hard strips of Chinese beef jerky she savored. Joan never tired of watching the same film over and over again, though Emma saw each only once, preferring to return to a good book.
For the next few months Joan would be freed from having to collect, but Emma knew that once her parents left Hong Kong, Joan would have to become her father's bill collector again.
Emma turned around and watched Joan, suddenly paralyzed with the fear that she might say something disrespectful back to their mother. Emma hated it when they argued. It usually began with simple words as short and sharp as quick slaps: I won't ... You must ... I can't. But this time Joan remained quiet, her smooth face absolutely calm. Emma knew Mah-mee could be right. Joan's money-collecting days might nearly be over. China was being devastated. As each day passed, rumors moved through school of how the Japanese devils were moving closer and closer to Hong Kong.
Watching her mother unpack, Emma breathed in the flowery air and leaned back just enough to feel the warmth of her sister behind her.
By June of 1940, Emma began to see serious signs that life in Hong Kong was changing. Westerners began to leave, taking their families with them. One morning two weeks before the term was over, many of Emma's European classmates were suddenly evacuated from Hong Kong to Australia. The sky rumbled, then rained, leaving a damp smell of concrete behind.
Excerpted from Night of Many Dreams by Gail Tsukiyama. Copyright © 1998 Gail Tsukiyama. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Meet the Author
Born to a Chinese mother and a Japanese father in San Francisco, Gail Tsukiyama's novels include Dreaming Water, Women of the Silk, The Language of Threads, and The Samurai's Garden. She lives in El Cerrito, California.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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I had never heard of this book, until I just noticed it on a bookshelf. I have to say I was interested from the start, and this book kept taking different directions, and the author tells the story through the eyes of each character, which gives the book a very special something! Awesome book, and I recommend it to everyone! :D
Night of many Dreams was the last book I read from Gail and I regretted I waited so long. A wonderful book of two sisters, family and friendships. I love her writing it's so hauntingly beautiful it just makes you heart ache because you want more. Gail please write another book.
When asked to choose one of about seven books in english class this semester, I was doubtful if Night Of Many Dreams would really be as great as my teacher exclaimed. I am happy to say that this book is extremely good. Traveling the life of one small family through the views of three different members, in two generations, was a reading experience I loved. The historical background was enough to make the story realistic, but not so much that the book became boring and a history lesson. Teenage girls will especially enjoy this, but anyone could love this somewhat easy read about young girls growing up in Hong Kong.
I was recommended to this book by a friend, and before that, I had never even heard of the author. The plot wasn't intricate nor breathtaking, nor is it the psychological workings of the characters violently stirring. This story of Emma and the years of her childhood to adulthood set with the scenes of boisterous Hong Kong, friendly Macao, and abroad in San Francisco could only be depicted with a style of such grace and candor. Whenever I feel like a rest from the rush of this world, I would pick up another book by Tsukiyama and allow the lightness of her beautiful writing life me up.
at times it seems depressing but it makes you feel good for some reason. i really enjoyed it!