I had read two other books by Lisa See, Snowflower and the Secret Fan and Shanghai Girls. China Dolls is by far my favorite. The book is set in San Franscisco, starting in 1938 with the world fair. The three protagonists are Grace, Helen, and Ruby, three young women of Asian origin trying to make their way as performers. The book deals with issues on an interpersonal and global level. At the beginning of the story, the three women are already struggling with racism and the difficulties of earning a living as Asians in 1930s America. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor takes place, the discrimination and segregation reaches new levels. As a reader, you experience the fear of war and attack, and the atrocities of the Japanese internment camps. On a personal level, the friendships between these three are extremely complicated, as they comfort and betray each other in unexpected and very profound ways.
There is actually a lot to be said about this book, but I would hate to spoil it for anyone who hasn't read it. If you have, I would love to hear your thoughts!