Author: Amy Tan
Four mothers, four daughters, four families whose histories shift with the four winds depending on who's "saying" the stories. In 1949 four Chinese women, recent immigrants to San Francisco, begin meeting to eat dim sum, play mahjong, and talk. United in shared unspeakable loss and hope, they call themselves the Joy Luck Club. Rather than sink into tragedy, they choose to gather to raise their spirits and money. "To despair was to wish back for something already lost. Or to prolong what was already unbearable." Forty years later the stories and history continue.With wit and sensitivity, Amy Tan examines the sometimes painful, often tender, and always deep connection between mothers and daughters. As each woman reveals her secrets, trying to unravel the truth about her life, the strings become more tangled, more entwined. Mothers boast or despair over daughters, and daughters roll their eyes even as they feel the inextricable tightening of their matriarchal ties. Tan is an astute storyteller, enticing readers to immerse themselves into these lives of complexity and mystery.
Me: Wow. A very real, rare insight into Chinese culture, and the resilience of Asian-American women and their relations.
The Ups: I really loved these characters and their relationships. Especially with the portrayal of the daughters I felt like I knew them all. The daughters were Chinese-American women who didn't really quite understand their heritage in its virtues and therefore didn't understand their mothers. The daughters had faced a lot of things in their life that they would complain about in their narratives and it was a fascinating contrast to the extreme, horrible things their mothers faced...but wouldn't easily talk about. I loved the daughters because I could so easily see their flaws. Sometimes one or the other would comment on another negatively, and it would really be so interesting as a reader to see two points of view on one character. One small detail I really loved was that in the book there is a romantic relationship that from the character who is in it, Waverly Jong, seems perfect and sweet. But when another character, June, observes the relationship later, she describes it as almost naive and childish.
The story is written by jumping back and forth between all 8 perspectives of all 4 pairs of mother-daughter relationships in the book. I think that Amy Tan did this beautifully: a huge accomplishment, because that is a LOT of characters. I also think that because I understood and connected to the daughters in the story (being American and also Asian-American, it wasn't hard to feel connected), the mothers' retellings of their lives seemed foreign, but also something that I could understand.
I really want to applaud this novel for taking its place on the Classics shelf and being one of very few novels written by Asian authors to achieve that...especially by an Asian-American. It also tells a story of identity and heritage, something that is very unique.
The Downs: The mothers kind of all blended into the same person...like I remember their stories but their characters were not so different in the sense that I can tell them apart from memory. I also feel like although it portrayed a quite honest picture of the story (and don't quote me on this because I am not Chinese American so I have no clue) I felt like sometimes the relationships and the tension and anger between them could be overdone.
Overall: An insightful classic on the hardships of Chinese-American women; a great cultural experience.
Rating: 4 kisses!
Have you read a classic that really introduced you to a new cultural outlook you'd never really gotten to experience?