My rating: 4 of 5 stars
China Dolls is the story of San Francisco's Chinatown in the mid twentieth century. As the story begins, America is in the midst of the depression. The plot continues through World War II. What makes this novel fascinating is Lisa See's decision to cover this subject from the points of view of three showgirls.
Grace, Helen, and Ruby, meet at auditions for a new nightclub, Forbidden City, which is located just outside of Chinatown. The idea is to feature “oriental” performers for an “occidental” audience. (Both of those terms were used during that period.) Grace Lee has come to San Francisco from the mid west with the hope of winning a role at the world's fair on Treasure Island, but she didn't succeed. She's on her way to her next option. Helen Fong, who is from a wealthy, local, very traditional, family, hears Grace asking for directions and offers to lead her there. Once there, they meet Ruby Tom, another dancer. All three audition and all win roles.
The three young women become close friends. This friendship is the novel's greatest strength. They help each other through tough times, but also compete with each other, hold secrets from each other, and betray each other along the way.
Steve Lindahl author of Hopatcong Vision Quest, White Horse Regressions, and Motherless Soul
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