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A Reading Vocation

"I Must Read, Read, and Read. It is my Vocation." - Thomas Merton

This is where I chronicle my reading life.  I also blog about writing at Lacey's Late-night Editing.


Book 106/100: China Dolls by Lisa See

China DollsChina Dolls by Lisa See
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Like most people, I came to Lisa See through Snow Flower and the Secret Fan. Unlike most people, I didn't particularly care for that book, so I didn't come to this one with inflated expectations.

Because of that (low expectations?), I think I managed to enjoy this book a little more. I really liked learning about a sliver of American history that is glossed over in most accounts of the 30s and World War II: The experiences of Asian (especially Chinese) showgirls. The three main characters felt real and distinct to me, although their voices weren't as distinct as I would have liked. I listened to this on audio, so it would have been nice to have three narrators.

Unfortunately, a lot of what bothered me about Snow Flower and the Secret Fan was present here, too. So much summarization instead of dramatization. A lot of "telling" instead of showing. Whole characters and story arcs were introduced and then dropped again in a matter of paragraphs. Perhaps this is just an issue with historical fiction in general, a genre which I am not an expert in by any means. It seemed as though See were more interested in giving a sweeping panorama of a 10-year period than telling one dramatic story. That was one of the other issues I had with the book -- it seemed as though it could have been five books, and some of the plot elements felt a little over-the-top and unnecessary (such as (view spoiler)[Ida's murder (hide spoiler)]), while at the same time not having the sort of impact you'd expect from such events.

Like Snow Flower, this story focused on female friendship, but its take on it was a bit darker, to the extent that I really found myself wanting to wring the characters' necks at times. I did find their actions and motivations believable enough for the most part -- if not a little too petty -- but the writing just wasn't that great, and most of the dialog felt stilted. An interesting enough read, but by the time I had reached the last quarter of the book, I was ready for it to be over.

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