Thursday, August 4, 2011

Book Review: "The Joy Luck Club"

"The Joy Luck Club" by Amy Tan
Published in 1989
My rating: 4 out of 5

"The Joy Luck Club" was recommended by a friend (indirectly, when it came up in a conversation about movies) and though I desperately wanted to like it, I came away with mixed feelings.

The novel centers on four mothers and four daughters. Tan tells each character's story through chapter-long vignettes; the mothers' stories, which start off in China and chronicle how they all ended up in San Francisco in 1949, are sad ones of unhappiness, abuse, bad luck and heartbreaking situations. The American-born daughters' tales are of unhapiness, fizzled-out dreams, bad husbands and meddling mothers. The mothers, who escaped terrible situations in China, were determined to give their daughters everything they didn't have, to give them a perfect life in their new home of San Francisco. But, now in their 30s, the daughters are ungrateful of their mothers' advice, efforts and guidance, and unappreciative of their Chinese heritage.

It's one of those deep, thought-provoking books that will affect every reader differently, and there are a variety of different themes at play. For me, the overarching theme of the book is the relationship between mother and daughter. That's something that transcends time period, ethnicity and social class. There are messages about respecting your mother, understanding that there are facets of her life --perhaps horrifying, perhaps blissfully happy -- that she has never told you, that she is (or, at least, was at one point) an individual separate from being a mother. And most importantly, that you should learn all you can from your mother while she's here and, no matter how many eye rolls or heated arguments her presence causes, appreciate her if for no other reason that she gave you a piece of herself when she brought you into this world.

I did like the theme and I enjoyed the stories, which involved fascinating Chinese superstitions and mythology, interesting depictions of growing up Chinese-American and accurate and engaging dialogue especially from the mothers. But what I didn't like was the disjointed feel of the book. While all the stories were joined together by a common thread, it was very hard to keep eight characters' stories straight throughout when Tan kept jumping back and forth. I constantly had to refer to the guide in the front to check which daughter went with which mother, and by the end I had gotten the mothers' experiences in China all mixed up. But perhaps there is a symbolism in the fact that all the stories run together.

I did enjoy the book overall but I'm looking forward to watching the movie, which I'm sure will be easier to follow. I wasn't able to imagine the story playing out in my head as much as I usually do with novels. I think that's mostly because it took a long time to get a good idea of each character's personality, since Tan switches up the story so often. For once, I can say I will really enjoy seeing a filmaker's perspective on the story.

1 comment:

  1. This book sounds interesting. I know it's been out for awhile. Curious what you think after you watch the movie.


Thanks for stopping by! Comments make my day, and I read and appreciate every single one!

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...