Friday, September 24, 2010

Book Review of The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan

 Chinese Fairytale Gone wrong
Name of book: The Joy Luck Club

Author Name: Amy Tan

ISBN: 0-8041-0630-4

Publisher: Ballantine Books New York

Type of book: Originally an adult novel, now young adult-adult, fantasy china, historical, contemporary

Year it was published: October 1989


Four mothers, four daughters, four families whose histories shift with the four winds depending on who's "saying" the stories. In 1949 four Chinese women, recent immigrants to San Francisco, begin meeting to eat dim sum, play mahjong, and talk. United in shared unspeakable loss and hope, they call themselves the Joy Luck Club. Rather than sink into tragedy, they choose to gather to raise their spirits and money. "To despair was to wish back for something already lost. Or to prolong what was already unbearable." Forty years later the stories and history continue.

With wit and sensitivity, Amy Tan examines the sometimes painful, often tender, and always deep connection between mothers and daughters. As each woman reveals her secrets, trying to unravel the truth about her life, the strings become more tangled, more entwined. Mothers boast or despair over daughters, and daughters roll their eyes even as they feel the inextricable tightening of their matriarchal ties. Tan is an astute storyteller, enticing readers to immerse themselves into these lives of complexity and mystery.

Characters: The characters are all one dimensional and although Tan tries to make them distinguishable from one another, she fails miserably at that. (The reason I wrote down the chapters and stuff that's discussed in them.) If one is to ask me to differentiate between them, I couldn't. I don't know which one of the girls has a daughter, or which one has the 'equal' husband, or which mother got married when she was a child to an impotent guy. The problems seemed to be the same for all characters. The daughters all have husband problems, or rather guy troubles, and the mothers mourned the loss of culture or how they are unable to reach their daughters. Basically, despite the seven person narrative, only two voices are alive; the mother and the daughter. What was the point of even creating seven narratives? Wouldn't two suffice? Also, the daughters are all married to white men, and with one exception are all childless and have good jobs. (Wow, very distinguishable isn't it?) The mothers bear the stereotype of a "China doll" (The Asian women are submissive docile creatures who need help from the West.) The Chinese men that are given a lot of space in the book are portrayed negatively, while American men have more of a positive portrayal. 

Theme: I think that the overall theme that was meant to be portrayed in this novel is losing the culture and how if you are born something then it never escapes you no matter what. While I agree with that from personal experience, I don't like the path it took to accomplish this painstakingly and wish the characters could have felt more realistic. The whole novel was reminiscent of a stereotypical movie of China and its people, one of the old martial arts movies in my opinion. 

Plot: The plot is literally messed up. The chapters or vignettes as they are called are out of order. (First section are the mothers, second are the daughters, third are the daughters, fourth are the mothers,) and if that's not bad enough, the plot constantly jumps around and one has a hard time figuring out the order. (In order to get who's who in the book, I had to write down the mother's/daughter's name and their stories which didn't help me out at all.) 

Author Information:  She was born in Oakland California in 1952, lived in Switzerland, returned to America and married a lawyer. There is a claim that I found that she used to go to a psychiatrist who several times fell asleep while listening to her, so she wrote a novel dealing with mother-daughter relationships. Her first novel is called The Joy luck club. Her other novels were titled Hundred Secret Senses, The Kitchen God's wife, Bonesetter's Daughter, and Saving Fish From Drowning. She is married to an American by the name of Louis DeMattei who was a lawyer. 

Opinion: I've heard of Amy Tan briefly as a teenager, and always wanted to read her books. (She was and still possibly is kind of popular.) I came to read her novel when my ex boyfriend was taking an honor's English class and they were reading her. I think he might have let me borrow the book, I'm not sure, but I read her at last. At first I liked the novel to be honest, because she was writing about the first generational women and their Americanized daughters. (Similar to me and my family, I'm 1.5 Generation while my parents are First generation.) So I could relate to the conflict and whatnot. Later on, when I read it a few more times, I felt and still feel angry at her portrayal of Asian men. (Just because the women in her stories married 'good' Asian men, they didn't play a visible part as the 'bad' Asian men, so of course if the part isn't very visible or noticeable, then people are more likely to remember the bad rather than the good.) My subsequent readings of The Joy Luck were boring. The book itself became boring and the character voices aren't distinguishable from one another. (The Mothers all sounded like, teh daughters as well.) The characters were all cut from cardboard and there was no depth or motives to them. (For example, why is Waverly so snooty?) My opinion? Read it when you have to, but please stay away from it. 

0 out of 5 
(0: Stay away unless a masochist 1: Good for insomnia 2: Horrible but readable; 3: Readable and quickly forgettable, 4: Good, enjoyable 5: Buy it, keep it and never let it go.)

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