Thursday, April 1, 2010

The Bonesetter's Daughter, by Amy Tan

I didn't particularly like The Joy Luck Club, finding the voices too much alike, and did not really want to read this one. However, it found its way to me and I decided to give her another try.

Again, Tan focuses on the differences in cultures and generations in China and the U.S., contrasting the "modern" with the traditional Chinese and Chinese-American. More, though, this story is about one woman, middle-aged, seeking her place in the world, reconciling her roots with her present family.

Ruth is a successful "ghost writer" or co-writer, particularly for writers of self-help books. One day she finds a picture that her mother, LuLing, says is of her (LuLing) with her mother. But then she discovers that the woman LuLing calls her mother is not Ruth's grandmother. So what happened here? Through LuLing's memories and incidents in Ruth's life we learn of LuLing's real mother, the bonesetter's daughter. As with The Joy Luck Club, the voice of LuLing is halting English, English as spoken by an immigrant from China. LuLing's beliefs, too, come from China and from her past and her parents' past.

The main difference between Ruth and LuLing is in the "mystical" or perhaps "mythical" beliefs LuLing holds, cultural stories that have made their way down several generations. Like Ruth, I found myself impatient with all of the insistence on the importance of this or that action, this or that word, on the future of a person. I personally have difficulty with the concept of living a life through belief in messages from the past, from the dead. I felt, though, that Ruth was actually more sympathetic to her mother's way of thinking than she let on. Perhaps she will eventually cling to such beliefs herself.

It's an interesting story that brings in a lot of history of China from the WWII years, as well as the continuing conflicts between native-born Chinese and Chinese-Americans.

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