Dreams of Joy by Lisa See, Fifty Russian Winters by Margaret Wettlin
I came late to the Lisa See party. Thanks to a retirement gift from P.L., I've enjoyed Dreams of Joy and look forward to backtracking through See's previous books. Despite its sequel status, I had no trouble following the story of a first generation Chinese-American daughter fleeing to Mao's China in the mid-1950s as much to find herself as her long lost dad.
Would a mother chase down her grown MIA offspring into Communist China? Hey, you're talking to a mom who was on the phone with the Marine on Duty at the US embassy in Madrid at 4 a.m. their time. You bet your life she would! Despite the plausible fierceness of a mother's love, the plot does get a bit outlandish. The scenes of day-to-day life in the Chinese countryside during the Great Leap Forward, however, are vivid and gut-wrenching.
Coincidentally, I recently read a memoir with real-life echoes of this fictional plight. Margaret Wettlin went to Moscow in 1932 to check out the promise of the Soviet system for herself. Apparently, quite a number of Americans did the same thing during the honeymoon years following the Russian Revolution. Wettlin, however, met a Russian man, fell in love, and stayed on for fifty years. Like fictional Joy in China, her loved one was in the arts and in an uncertain balance with the Communist party line. Both women brought children into dangerous and precarious worlds.
The easy in, no way out experiences of these women absurdly remind me of the lyrics from the Eagles "Hotel California":
"Last thing I remember, I was
Running for the door
I had to find the passage back
To the place I was before
"Relax, " said the night man,
"We are programmed to receive.
You can check-out any time you like,
But you can never leave! "