Thursday, December 30, 2010

Book Review: The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan

I first read this book in 1993 when the movie came out. I absolutely loved it and ran out and bought the book immediately, reading it in a day or two. I was thrilled when a few months later, the book appeared on the syllabus for my 20th Century American Lit class. I loved it, and read Ms. Tan's next several books (although with decreasing enthusiasm, and haven't read the last couple.) As usual, I was worried about rereading, but I thought it was worthwhile. I'd seen the movie several times since then, including last week, but I remembered the book had nearly twice as many stories as the movie, and I no longer remembered those and wanted to give it another go.

Luckily, it was fantastic. And I strongly recommend a reread with this book. When I first read it, I was 19. With this reread, I am 36. The daughters in the book are also 36. I still identify with them more so than with the mothers (perhaps because I remain not a mother myself) but now I understood them differently. At 19, I aspired to be them. At 36, I AM them. However, I dealt with my own mother-daughter issues a while back, in my late 20s. In that regard, they seemed a little juvenile, even though most of them were married with kids, a divorce, and maybe more. On the other hand, since I know it is a completely different culture, I think it probably makes sense that they've had a bit more trouble cutting the apron strings. Not to mention, all of them staying in their hometown and living near their parents exacerbated the mother-daughter issues.

The different voices (7 in all, 8 if you count Suyuan) were distinct and the stories were illuminating. You really did see, as An-Mei said, the stair steps of the mothers and daughters going up and down, and them learning to use their own voices and tell their stories is the central theme. But it's a resonant story today. I have a friend who needs to learn what she's worth, and to ask for it, who I'm thinking of giving a copy of this book. An odd fact: This book was originally published in 1987. Which means that the daughters aren't really my age, they're just 4 years younger than my mother. Which makes it all the more interesting for me to identify with the daughters, who are baby boomers, and who grew up in a drastically different America than I did, regardless of their culture. It's interesting how siblings almost never came into the story, except for Jing-Mei's found half-sisters, and they mostly are just a story.

I'm thrilled I reread this, and I finished it in just 2 days. It was powerful, evocative, heart-breaking, and in the end hope-giving.


Chelle said...

This is one of my favorite books. I remember thinking the movie was just ok. I connected to the characters much better in the book. It's been a few years since I've read The Joy Luck Club but I still see things that make me think about the story.

Caroline Starr Rose said...

Love Amy Tan! This was my first AT book.

Natalie~Coffee and a Book Chick said...

One of my all time favorite books! I need to re-read this.

Christy said...

I haven't read Amy Tan in a while, but I remember that Kitchen God's Wife was my favorite. I own a signed copy of the Joy Luck Club because Amy Tan came to my college's campus one year. That's great that you found that it stood up to a re-read, as I should re-read it sometime.