From the beginning of World war II to the beginning of the Vietnam war, this wonderful book is a coming-of-age story of two sisters, Joan and Emma Lew. The chapters in this book feature a different family member and time frame. While their father is away a lot for his import/export business, the girls are left with their mother Kum Ling, faithful cook Foon and their mother’s cousin whom they call Auntie Go. When the Japanese occupation of Hong Kong is imminent, Kum Ling takes her family to the neutral territory of Macao to try to avoid the miseries of war. After they return to Hong Kong, the socially conscious Kum Ling tries to play matchmaker for her older daughter, Joan.
Joan has ideas of her own proving that girls do not need to follow convention to find happiness. Even though Joan seems to flounder a lot, she eventually follows her dream. Emma, the younger sister is the scholar in the family who always wanted to experience new things and places. She travels half way around the globe to follow her heart. The sisters find their own way in life, sometimes much to the consternation of their mother but with the influence of their unmarried and very successful Auntie Go, the girls’ mother finally realizes each of them has to do what is right for them, not what seems right to society or tradition. Even through some family friction, it is obvious they all love and care about each other very much.
I found this book not as much of an instant grabber as some of Tsukiyama’s later books. It took a while to become engaged with some of the characters but the story itself is very good. It is more of a slower read to savor than to gobble up just to see what happens next. Night of Many Dreams was written in 1998 and it is easy to see how much Tsukiyama has grown as a writer. Her last book, The Street of a Thousand Blossoms, was written in 2007. In comparing the two, her 2007 writing has much more detail and the characters seem more real with a lot more depth to them. Still and all, both books are very enjoyable. I would rate Night of Many Dreams 4 stars. If I were to review The Street of a Thousand Blossoms, it would be 5 stars.