China Dolls

China Dolls

by Lisa See
4.2 74


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China Dolls by Lisa See


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The author of Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, Peony in Love, and Shanghai Girls has garnered international acclaim for her great skill at rendering the intricate relationships of women and the complex meeting of history and fate. Now comes Lisa See’s highly anticipated new novel, China Dolls.
It’s 1938 in San Francisco: a world’s fair is preparing to open on Treasure Island, a war is brewing overseas, and the city is alive with possibilities. Grace, Helen, and Ruby, three young women from very different backgrounds, meet by chance at the exclusive and glamorous Forbidden City nightclub. Grace Lee, an American-born Chinese girl, has fled the Midwest with nothing but heartache, talent, and a pair of dancing shoes. Helen Fong lives with her extended family in Chinatown, where her traditional parents insist that she guard her reputation like a piece of jade. The stunning Ruby Tom challenges the boundaries of convention at every turn with her defiant attitude and no-holds-barred ambition.
The girls become fast friends, relying on one another through unexpected challenges and shifting fortunes. When their dark secrets are exposed and the invisible thread of fate binds them even tighter, they find the strength and resilience to reach for their dreams. But after the Japanese attack Pearl Harbor, paranoia and suspicion threaten to destroy their lives, and a shocking act of betrayal changes everything.

Praise for China Dolls
“Superb . . . This emotional, informative and brilliant page-turner resonates with resilience and humanity.”The Washington Post
“This is one of those stories I’ve always wanted to tell, but Lisa See beat me to it, and she did it better than I ever could. Bravo! Here’s a roaring standing ovation for this heartwarming journey into the glittering golden age of Chinese nightclubs.”—Jamie Ford, author of Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet
“A fascinating portrait of life as a Chinese-American woman in the 1930s and ’40s.”—The New York Times Book Review
“A sweeping, turbulent tale of passion, friendship, good fortune, bad fortune, perfidy and the hope of reconciliation.”—Los Angeles Times
“Lisa See masterfully creates unforgettable characters that linger in your memory long after you close the pages.”—Bookreporter
“Stellar . . . The depth of See’s characters and her winning prose makes this book a wonderful journey through love and loss.”Publishers Weekly (starred review)
China Dolls plunges us into a fascinating history and offers an accessible meditation on themes that are still urgent in our contemporary world.”San Francisco Chronicle
China Dolls is [Lisa See’s] most penetrating since Snow Flower and the Secret Fan.”The Seattle Times

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780812992892
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 06/03/2014
Pages: 400
Sales rank: 472,103
Product dimensions: 6.10(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.40(d)

About the Author

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


Los Angeles, California

Date of Birth:

February 18, 1955

Place of Birth:

Paris, France


B.A., Loyola Marymount University, 1979

Customer Reviews

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China Dolls: A Novel 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 74 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Strong character development and very educational details on this time in American history.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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!!!!  
lsmeadows More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
Christmas0 More than 1 year ago
While not my favorite of Lisa See's novels, "China Dolls" is engaging with strong character development and enticing storyline.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Wonderful...once again, Lisa See's writing mesmerized me from the first page. I will read, and so far, have read all of her books. I've learned so much, and enjoyed her strong characters.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I thought the book had interesting and in depth characters. I finished the book in about a day and it kept me engaged. The plot of the story was easy to figure out, but it was still an interesting read. Theme of the book....keep your friends close, but your enemies closer. LOL
alterlisa More than 1 year ago
This is the first Lisa See book I've read and I thoroughly enjoyed both the San Francisco setting and pre-WWII era. I knew very little about the treatment of either the Chinese or Japanese before and after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. I've got to admit it was a real eye opener. The references to articles in Time and Life magazine on how to tell the difference between a Chinese or Jap  was truly horrifying as were the request for licenses to hunt Japs.  I loved the period details about the songs, TV programs, movies and actors. Reading about the World's Fair on Treasure Island and visiting the nightclub, Forbidden City, was enlightening. It was fascinating seeing the changes in the lives of women during this period of time.  Despite the fact that the story is told from three different POVs, something I hate and normally refuse to read, I read nonstop to the end barely taking the time to stop and eat. 
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It is a good read, but not as good as previous Lisa See books.
Anonymous 9 months ago
While the story got better as I continued to read , it just wasn't my " cup of tea " . I cannot imagine that this book would hold any appeal to a male audience as it was very "girlie " . Would not read another novel by this author --- this was my first and last .
Anonymous 12 months ago
It was a wonderful read kept me up and I couldn't put it down. I really loved it!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Long and difficult to get through very boring
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book pulled me in right from the start and was very thought provoking.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Characters were real in their own truth Time when things were different Secrets, friendships, love, healing Author very detailed in writing
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Take a ride on the Chinatown Express with Lisa See! Her characters are believable. You will be transported to another time and place. A wonderful read with historical accuracy and depth.
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bookloverfl12 More than 1 year ago
Just wasn't my type of book. I listened to this book so my review may be judgmental according to the reader. I wasn't too thrilled with this book but I think a lot of it came from the reader, who didn't seem to enthusiastic and actually droned on with the story. The story line was very interesting. I am one that doesn't prefer historical fiction but this one peaked my interests as I am not very familiar with the China, Japan, and American history and this story made it relatable.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A very good description of the times, historically, with the added insight of Chinese culture in this country as it denies and accepts changes from traditional to modern life. Additionally, the Chinese- Japanese- American conflict is explored. All of this is incorporated in the lives of three young women in a very engrossing story.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Amazing, didn't want to put the book down!