Sunday, October 05, 2008

55. The Joy Luck Club

by Amy Tan

I read this book for an online book discussion. Having read and thoroughly enjoyed Tan’s The Bonesetter’s Daughter a number of years ago, I was looking forward to Tan’s first book. While I can see why it is often studied on college campuses, I found it less enjoyable. I think it was the structure of the novel. The seven narrators, six of whom tell two stories each and one (June) who tells four (her dead mother’s stories and her own), were sometimes hard to follow. I think I would have preferred each mother-daughter pair’s of stories more in sequence, as it was difficult at times to tell who was who.

The mothers’ stories were more intriguing (and heartbreaking), reflecting their early lives in China in times of great upheaval in the 1940s, before emigrating around 1949. Nearly forty years later, their American-born daughters are in their late 20s and early 30s, going through career and man problems in San Francisco, the most interesting aspect of their stories being the cultural clash in their relationships with their mothers.

This collection of short stories reflects the author’s real life, for like June’s mother Suyuan, Tan’s mother also fled China leaving children from her first marriage behind. Tan’s grandmother had a son taken from her and eventually committed suicide, as An-mei Hsu’s mother did. Tan’s mother had high expectations of her (she wanted her to be a neurosurgeon by profession with the "hobby" of concert pianist), and their relationship was rocky. This last, the uneasy mother-daughter relationships but ultimate mother-daughter love, gives The Joy Luck Club its universality.

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