Even though my aunt had told me that Amy Tan was a good writer I was still completely bowled over by this book. In fact, almost as soon as I completed this book I felt the strongest need to read The Kitchen God’s Wife, another book by Amy Tan. But I held myself back because I knew that if I read more it would make me lazy to write this review and more inclined to losing myself in another magical story.
I’m afraid this might be a long-ish review since I am very keen on convincing anyone I can to read this book.
Jing-Mei’s mother, Suyuan, was the one who had begun the San Francisco version of the Joy Luck Club. In fact, she was also the one who’d started the original Joy Luck Club way back in Kweilin during the Second World War.
Each week Suyuan and her three friends would gather to play Mah Jong for money. And every week they would take turns hosting this meeting and serving special kinds of food to bring good luck. Once they began playing no one was allowed to speak. They were to play seriously and only think of adding to their happiness by winning. After 16 rounds they would again feast, this time to celebrate their good fortune. And they’d talk all through the night up until morning exchanging stories of good times, both from the past and those yet to come.
Now Jing-Mei’s mother is dead, and her father has asked her to be the fourth corner at the Joy Luck Club. She is to replace her mother. And it is from here that the stories begin.
Like in the game, Mah Jong, the book has four parts and is further divided into four sections to create sixteen chapters. Each part is preceded by a parable relating to the game. The book is a collection of vignettes shared by three mothers (Suyuan’s friends) and four daughters relating stories from their lives. The mothers are Chinese immigrants and think the Chinese way, while their daughters are Chinese-American and think the American way.
The Joy Luck Club describes the mother-daughter relationship that is made complex with the misunderstandings that is usually present between two generations. And this particular type of relationship that this book brings to light is made even more complex by the cultural differences that exist between the daughters and their mothers. The Chinese mothers belong to a culture where people are expected to know and understand certain things without anyone having to tell them and in the same way they expect their daughters to understand and know things in the same way as they do. But their daughters are of another culture and they do not have the ability to understand the unspoken thoughts and words of their mothers.
This book was inspired by an incident from the author’s mother’s life. Amy Tan’s mother, Daisy, had once been married to an abusive man back in China. She had had four children; three daughters and a son. Her son died as a toddler, and she was forced to leave her three daughters in Shanghai when she migrated to America. In 1987 Amy Tan travelled with her mother to China and there she, finally, met her three half – sisters.
Amy Tan is a brilliant story teller. And even though I say she’s a brilliant story teller, Amy Tan more than simply tells her story. I wasn’t even aware when I became part of the story, watching and hearing everything for myself. Apart from how descriptive her writing is I was also drawn to her writing style. It’s very subtle, yet telling. And some parts are beautifully poetic. It’s difficult to pull away once you begin reading.
This book is a great read for its captivating stories of different cultures merging, the beautiful way these stories have been told, and most of all for the thoughts and realizations that these stories make clear.
I am so glad that I picked this book up when I did – thank you, Aunty Reena!