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July 3, 2014 / Leslie

Review – Audiobook: China Dolls by Lisa See

China Dolls by Lisa SeeChina Dolls
by Lisa See
Narrated by Jodi Long

Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Random House Audio
Publish Date: June 3, 2014
Format: Audio CD, 15 hours | 12 minutes
Audio Listening Level: Intermediate – Challenging
Rating: 4 of 5

Publisher’s Synopsis:

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.

My Thoughts:

The story of Grace, Helen and Ruby, Chinese Americans coming of age during the World War II era, is told in alternating points of view from each of the three women. They meet by chance while auditioning for the part of showgirl at a nightclub in San Francisco, and soon become good friends, vowing to never let anything come between them. But through the years their friendships are tested as each tries to outshine the other; secrets are revealed and loyalties are betrayed.

The women’s characters are well-developed, as are their family, friends and coworkers. Rich with historical detail, the World War II era comes to life. After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, paranoia and suspicion are heightened, and we vividly experience the prejudice, discrimination and racism of the times through each of the women’s eyes. Written with cringe-worthy realism, the author vividly portrays an unfortunate period of history where bigotry became acceptable, and even encouraged, to promote patriotism.

Perhaps it was the alternating viewpoints, the large number or characters or the need to fill in a lot of back story, but for me, the book had a slow start. At first the women seemed a lot alike. But once war broke out, their lives took different paths and the plot began to accelerate, following each woman’s life through the end of the war. The novel closes with a jump 50 years into the future, providing a satisfying epilogue to each of their stories.

Audio Production:

Jodi Lang’s narration was performed with emotion and enthusiasm. It took me an hour or so to get comfortable with her style, but once I did, the characters came alive.

Having multiple points-of-view and only one narrator, as opposed to using an ensemble cast, made the audio a little more difficult to follow, especially in the early part of the novel when we are still learning the back story. Plus, there were many secondary characters and their relationships to each women to remember. Jodi did change her voice while performing the narration for each of the girls, but Helen and Grace sounded too similar at times. While this book requires some additional concentration, experienced audio listeners should enjoy the production.

Audio Sample:

Source: Review copy
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Leave a Comment
  1. acuriousgal / Jul 3 2014 3:11 pm

    Did she author another book?


    • Leslie / Jul 3 2014 3:48 pm

      Yes, this was just published last month.


  2. BermudaOnion / Jul 3 2014 3:32 pm

    I’ve just started it and, so far, it’s just okay. I’m glad to see it started slow for you – it gives me hope for the book!


    • Leslie / Jul 3 2014 3:48 pm

      It picks up a lot once the war starts.


  3. sagustocox / Jul 3 2014 7:40 pm

    I’m reading this one now in ARC form, and I really like it so far. Have a great 4th of July


  4. Suko / Jul 3 2014 9:45 pm

    I’m glad you enjoyed this audiobook, Leslie. I would like to read or listen to Lisa See’s new book.


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