The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan
Published in 1989 by GP Putnam’s Sons
My copy: Second-hand copy bought from charity shop in Canterbury
In 1949 four Chinese women, recent immigrants to San Francisco, meet weekly to play mahjong and tell stories of what they left behind in China. United in loss and new hope for their daughters’ futures, they call themselves the Joy Luck Club. Their daughters, who have never heard these stories, think their mothers’ advice is irrelevant to their modern American lives – until their own inner crises reveal how much they’ve unknowingly inherited of their mothers’ pasts.
I first read this book many years ago at school, and decided it was high time I revisited it. The novel follows eight characters – four mothers and their four daughters – and each characters gets two chapters each in a fairly random order. The stories are very interesting and we see the strong contrast between the mothers’ lives in China, and how the daughters who were all born in America have fought for their independence.
I really enjoyed this book, and I found the tensions between the mothers and daughters very well portrayed, and although I found myself generally siding with the daughters you could understand the mothers’ views as well – especially when you found out more about their pasts.
Where the novel fell down for me is in the structure. It is pieced together as lots of short stories, which are often unrelated and there aren’t very strong links between the four mothers or their daughters. Also, although the characters have different stories and experiences, their personalities seemed very similar, making them quite interchangeable and hard to tell apart at times. So the mothers were all quite traditional, superstitious and critical, while the daughters tended to be quite negative towards their mothers, and has been adversely affected by their criticisms, both in childhood and adulthood.
Really I felt this would have worked well as the story of one mother and daughter rather than trying to give all eight characters in the novel their own stories, as it was so hard to distinguish between them. Despite this, it is a brilliantly written book with some great moments and fascinating dynamics between the mothers and their daughters. I also loved the fabulous descriptions of food!