Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Joy Luck Club, Amy Tan

The old woman remembered a swan she had bought many years ago in Shanghai for a foolish sum. This bird, boasted the market vendor, was once a duck that had stretched its neck in hopes of becoming a goose, and now look!- it is too beautiful to eat. 

Being half Chinese myself, I find myself doubting Amy Tan's authenticity, but one cannot doubt that her novels are very good. They're really compelling, and draw you in once you start them. In this one, the four mothers and the four daughters of the San Francisco "joy luck club", started when the four mothers came together to play mah jong, invest in stocks, and eat dim sum. "Nearly forty years later, one of the members has died, and her daughter has come to take her place, only to learn of her mother's lifelong wish- and the tragic way in which it has come true." Then, the stories of everyone else in this club are told, both mother and daughter, in (I think) four different parts, with three or four sections within each part.

It's hard to pinpoint what makes The Joy Luck Club so compelling. I don't think it's really accurate in its portrayal of Chinese immigrants; only some are like the characters in this book. But the plot itself is so gripping, the stories so... not fun, but perhaps necessary to read. I found myself pulled into the stories of mothers and their daughters, pasts and presents and futures.

A lot of the older women have had horrific experiences back in China, and finally, these stories start to come out, after so many years. And the daughters have their own tales to tell, of growing up in America, of hearing wisdom from their mother and ignoring it, or perhaps taking it too much to heart.

I read The Kitchen God's Wife a couple years ago, and though I don't remember much about the plot, I remember reading it on a sunny summer afternoon and really liking it. I think The Joy Luck Club was just as good, though again, I may not agree with its interpretation. But just as a story, it's amazing. And the Chinese words are actually accurate, which I can't say the same for other books (or perhaps they just use Cantonese instead of Mandarin. I only speak Mandarin).

Who was my favorite character? Hmm...I think all of them were equally interesting, though I particularly liked Tan's portrayal of the married couple who add everything up, account for every single cent and who owes whom what. I don't think that's how marriage should work, and predictably, their marriage does unravel. There's also (as with many of the chapters) an interesting anecdote about childhood superstitions that actually end up coming true.

"Amy Tan writes about what is lost and what is saved." She does. She writes about things that fail to get passed down, and things that do. And the stories. I loved The Joy Luck Club, and would recommend it. But don't believe that all Chinese immigrants are like the characters here. That's a dangerous misconception to fall into, so don't do it. Just enjoy this novel.

Read The Joy Luck Club:
  • if you like Amy Tan
  • if you like historical fiction
  • if you like books set in China/with Chinese immigrants
288 pages.
Outstanding Book That Will Stay On My Bookshelf For Rereading (jf I own it)!

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