By: Amy Tan
Review By: Alex Frank
In 1949, after migrating to San Francisco from their homes in China, An-mei Hsu, Lindo Jong, Suyuan Woo, and Ying-ying St. Clair became the members of The Joy Luck Club. Each week, these women would come together to eat dyansyin and play mah jong. They shared hopes for the future and joyous stories from their pasts. Each having suffered greatly in their lifetime, they looked to create better lives for their children. They had hope and strong spirits when others did not.
This story follows these four women and the journey they must take to connect with their American-born daughters who are resistant to their mothers’ Chinese ways.
The Joy Luck Club was not what I was originally expecting. Rather than telling the story from the perspectives of just the mothers or the daughters, the chapters rotate between each of the characters. There are four sections to the novel. Each section focuses on either the four daughters or the four mothers. And rather than telling one continuous story, we learn by the author telling many separate stories. The mothers reveal their past in China and how their daughters have come to view their ways and lessons in America. The daughters tell of their childhood, the expectations that were placed on them by their mothers, and how that has translated to their relationships as grown women.
The design of the rotating chapters made it difficult at times to make sure that I kept everyone’s story straight. The author was kind enough to match the daughters with their mothers at the beginning of the book, which helped to keep the family relations straight. However, there were so many stories going on at once that it took me a little while to settle into the rhythm of the book.
I do not say this to state that this factor ruined the book, but it did make the reading more complicated and detracted from my overall enjoyment of the reading experience. I had to refer back to previous chapters on occasion to make sure I was connecting the right characters with the proper life story. There were multiple times when I thought taking notes would help me remember, but having to take notes to keep a story straight doesn’t seem to speak well of the book’s structure. I decided against taking notes and feel I understood each character, but, again, I had to reference back to previous chapters. This can get tiring after a while.
As far as the writing is concerned, the author did very well conveying emotions that resonated with me even though I have never faced the tragedies that these eight women faced. I could feel their embarrassment, their pain, their anger, and their joy. Successful writing is being able to connect with anyone on an intellectual and/or emotional level. Amy Tan does a wonderful job, I believe, in both areas because I learned cultural lessons while reflecting on the relationship I have with my mother and how we interact with each other. I was reminded not to take my relationships for granted because we never know what can happen to those we love.
As a side note, not all characters held the same weight in the story, and some I just downright didn’t like at all. The characters were realistic (which is a plus), but I don’t know anyone that enjoys reading the thoughts of characters they don’t like.
The Joy Luck Club is not my favorite book exploring Chinese culture, but it’s a good read. And the author is well spoken. At 288 pages, if you are looking for a quick read and want to learn about China during World War I or Chinese-American life, then I recommend this book to you. Or perhaps you are looking for a realistic story about mothers and daughters with difficult pasts but hopeful futures.
Either way, you may want to give The Joy Luck Club a place on your bookshelf.
Overall Rating: 3