Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan

The Joy Luck Club, by Amy Tan, has been on my stacks
for-e-ver. Seriously, years. I had extra incentive to read it now because I put it on my Fall TBR list, AND my face-to-face book club chose it for November! Amy Tan's reputation precedes her, of course, so I was really excited to pick this one up. 

The novel is about three mothers (and a fourth, deceased) and their four daughters. It's split into four sections with four short stories or vignettes within each section. A grand total of 16 vignettes, if you're not crazy about the math. I wasn't expecting this format (duh!) even though my first introduction to this book was seeing the chapter, "Two Kinds" anthologized and taught in high school and university courses.

As a lover of short stories, or short story cycles (stories tied together, vignettes that make a whole) it didn't bother me in the slightest. And on the whole, I've heard sooo many people say they love this one, it makes me hopeful that this format can be appreciated by more people, rather than less. Fingers crossed!

I did have trouble keeping the mothers and daughters in this book straight at times. However, I found that there were enough details within each vignette that I had a solid overall feeling for the family plight and how each mother and daughter related to one another. 

The overarching themes deal with the ways in which mothers and daughters relate to each other or fail to relate to each other. They constantly lose each other and float back together. The cultural differences between Chinese mothers and daughters raised in America are extremely prevalent, and I found that aspect of the book affecting and extremely powerful. There are enough barriers between mothers and daughters without the addition of language and cultural differences. That worked as a beautiful analogy. 

The Joy Luck Club is also a heartbreaker in spots. These women fight their way out of war torn countries, abandon children out of necessity, endure crappy families. Death is no stranger to this group. My favorite "thread" within The Joy Luck Club was the story of Suyuan Woo and her daughter Jing-mei or June Woo. Suyuan actually passes away before the book's start so while most of the mothers and daughters get two chapters each, June is the center of all four of her chapters. June is invited to Suyuan's mah-jong group. It's through her mother's closest friends, her memories, and her experiences visiting China that she comes to know her mother better--even though she's already passed away. 

I'm doing a really sucky job of explaining why I loved this book, but it's beautifully written, it's accessible no matter what your cultural background, and it's universal to those difficult (at times) mother/daughter relationships. I also thought this one might be a bit dated, but it transcends the 80s and early 90s, when it was originally published. 

I have more Amy Tan on my shelves...Saving Fish From Drowning and The Kitchen God's Wife. I'm even more excited to read them now, and I'm extremely glad that I put this book on my Fall TBR, and a big THANK YOU to my book club for rolling with it!

Have you read any of Amy Tan's work? What did you think? 

You can also follow Amy Tan, and tell her how awesome she is, on Twitter!

Pub. Date. September 2006 (my edition)
Publisher: Penguin Group
Format: Trade Paperback
ISBN: 9780143038092
Source: Bought it forever ago!

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