The element that one’d feel the most empathetic with is probably the love between the sisters and daughters and mothers. Reading Joy’s naivety at the beginning has pained me and we all would wish that Joy had just listened to Pearl (but then there would be no story !). Though there are a lot of details and a lot of hardship, at times I’ve still felt that the chain of events had come too easily and quickly and not enough details have been given (probably the book should be like 1000 pages rather than 354). Rationally, there could have been more stumbling blocks and more difficulties for Pearl and Joy to deal with. But emotionally, when I was reading, I was wishing at almost every moment that there wouldn’t be another round of adversity coming to Pearl or Joy.
I like the happy ending but it’s kind of too good to be true, unavoidably like a Hollywood ending. Nobody got hurt and lost … How could Dun be sure that Pearl and Joy and others would get to Hong Kong successfully ?! It’s a bit like the adventure of Indiana Jones or Lara Croft that one goes into a mission and comes out intact. Joy’s adventure including meeting and even talking with the “Helmsman” Chairman Mao ! … Another probably irrational feeling is that the novel seems to end in a hurry, almost like being forced to end the story writing when the publication deadline had arrived.
Some details are interestingly refreshing. Killing sparrows led to more locusts which damage the crops. Trying to plant the crops denser than the soil could deal with led to worse production in quality and quantity. Plus the corrupt Communist cadres taking away more and more of the crops to the upper govt. from the farmer just to show that their village could meet certain unrealistic targets finally led to large scale famine in the village. The author obviously indicates that those 3 years were not natural calamities but more like human disasters.
On p.189, the author mentioned “Four Evils–sparrows, rats, insects and flies”. I think “insects” should be replaced by “mosquitoes”. Even author’s website (“www.lisasee.com/dreamsofjoy-inside/historical-links/historical-links2/”) says so.
One pleasant detail is that Hong Kong was again considered as an exit to freedom. But I doubt a bit that the Mainland Chinese or anybody was so sure that the entire Hong Kong territories would be returned to China in 1997. Before the 1984 Joint Declaration was signed, there had been various hopes and scenarios. Before then, it’s not at all certain what’d happen in July 1997 (as Hong Kong Island/Kownloon were in principle ceded to Britain). The characters in this novel were awfully certain about Hong Kong’s future ~40 years before 1997.