Lisa See was on the phone from her Los Angeles home, jazzed about her March 2 appearance in the Sacramento area for the just-released paperback edition of “China Dolls” (Random House, $16, 416 pages), her best-selling 2014 novel. In it, three Chinese American women of disparate backgrounds become entertainers in a Chinatown nightclub on the “Chop Suey Circuit,” in pre-World War II San Francisco.
See is the author of the memoir “On Gold Mountain,” the three-title “Red Princess” mystery series, and the novels “Snow Flower and the Secret Fan,” “Peony in Love” and “Shanghai Girls.” She has appeared for the Bee Book Club.
Q: “China Dolls” continues your theme of women’s friendships, this time among a trio of women from disparate backgrounds.
A: (The dynamic) of a friendship between three people has always fascinated me. In such a triangle, alliances can shift and betrayals (will occur). It’s inevitable you will eventually have two against one.
Q: Chinatown’s 1930s-’40s nightclub scene is another example of you uncovering Asian American history that was lost in time.
A: (Occidentals) were the main customer base at the clubs. (The Chinese entertainers) were a novelty because of all the stereotypes back then – Asians can’t sing, they have no sense of humor, they have bow legs. Most of the performers played to those stereotypes. Often the acts included demure women in traditional Chinese outfits who would strip off their outer costumes and be dressed as chorus girls. It blew people’s minds.
Q: Your mystery series (1997 through 2003) starred American attorney David Stark and Chinese agent Liu Hulan. Will it return?
A: Maybe. Those books were written in real time, so David and Liu have continued to age. So now if they went out to solve a crime. … But that doesn’t mean they can’t have a son or daughter.
Q: All of your books have a China connection.
A: I’m not trying to write educational books, but (they do offer) a window into different aspects of China that people hadn’t thought about before. Readers can start to connect with this group of people – (who make up) a quarter of the world’s population – and see they have the same hopes and desires and emotions we have.
Q: You were in China last year.
A: I was doing research for my next book, in the historic tea mountains in Yunnan province. Originally, tea grew on trees and many of them are still there, (typically) 500 to 1,000 years old. One is as old as 3,500 years. Pu-erh tea from Yunnan is different from any other tea in the world. As it ferments and undergoes changes, it grows in value. Less than a pound of it sold at a recent auction for $150,000.
Yunnan is very remote and primitive, but because of (the demand for) pu-erh tea it’s now like the gold rush, with tea speculators and merchants (descending on it from everywhere). Ten years ago there was no electricity in Yunnan, and now everybody has cellphones, doing tea business all over the world.
Q: What’s the next novel about?
A: A woman gives birth to a baby under an ancient tea tree, and gives up the baby for adoption. The baby is adopted (by a California family). So it’s about the mother in China and the mother here. The historic backdrop is the pu-erh tea trade and the ethnic-minority tribe I’m focusing on, the Akha. It will be the most contemporary book I’ve written.
Eclectic new titles
Your next great read could be in this list of eclectic new titles:
▪ James Rollins and writing partner Rebecca Cantrell conclude their “Order of the Sanguines” supernatural trilogy with “Blood Infernal” (William Morrow, $28, 416 pages). An archaeologist joins forces with an Army soldier and a priest in a time-traveling hunt for the key to mankind’s salvation, a journey that takes him to the literal gates of hell.
▪ Cara Black of San Francisco continues her “Aimee Leduc” mystery series, set in early to mid-1990s Paris, with “Murder On the Champ De Mars” (Soho, $28, 320 pages; on sale March 3). Aimee is a tall, spiky-haired P.I. who favors high heels, knock-off couture and Chanel No. 5. This time out, Aimee is juggling new motherhood with running her detective agency, when she gets word that a dying woman has a secret to share. Black has appeared for the Bee Book Club
▪ With a new relationship between the U.S. and Cuba in the works, a glimpse into the island country can be found in “Pig’s Foot” by Carlos Acosta (Bloomsbury, $17, 333 pages). After the death of his grandfather, Oscar Kortico goes on a quest to track down the family’s ancestral village, aided by a magical amulet. He finds much more.
▪ Jonathan Lethem is back with his third collection of stories, “Lucky Alan” (Doubleday, $25, 176 pages). He is among the world’s most accomplished writers, and the author of nine novels (“Dissident Gardens,” “The Fortress of Solitude”) and six works of nonfiction. One review notes of “Alan”: “As always in Lethem, humor and poignancy work in harmony.”
▪ The legend of Atlantis persists, and there’s no shortage of adventurers seeking to find it. Best-selling author Mark Adams (“Turn Right at Machu Picchu”) takes a more rational approach in the travelogue “Meet Me In Atlantis” (Dutton, $28, 320 pages; on sale March 10). He set out on a global journey to interview scientists and theorists about the possibility of the lost continent actually having existed. The starting point: “Everything we know about (Atlantis) comes from the Greek philosopher Plato.”
▪ In “Sky Dance,” Sacramento author Richard Meredith tells a tale of adventure and intrigue involving eco-terrorists and birders whose paths cross in the Amazon rainforest – and not in a good way (CreateSpace, $14, 348 pages). The author is a marine scientist and wildlife biologist.
Call The Bee’s Allen Pierleoni, (916) 321-1128. Follow him on Twitter @apierleonisacbe.
LET US KNOW
If you have information on author appearances or other book-related special events, email it to firstname.lastname@example.org at least two weeks before the event. To read the online calendar, go to www.sacbee.com/books. Questions? Call The Bee’s Allen Pierleoni, (916) 321-1128.
Book-signing by Lisa See
What: Presentation and autographing of “China Dolls” and her other titles
When: 7 p.m. March 2
Where: Barnes & Noble, 6111 Sunrise Blvd., Citrus Heights
Information: (916) 853-1389.