Sunday, November 11, 2012

E-Reading: Book Review of The Bonesetter's Daughter by Amy Tan

Name of Book: The Bonesetter's Daughter

Author: Amy Tan

ISBN: 9780399146435

Publisher: G.P Putnam

Type of book: China, mother-daughter relationship, 1920s-1990s?, living together, dementia/Alzheimer, legends, stories, myths

Year it was published: 2001


A major new novel from the internationally bestselling author of The Joy Luck Club, The Kitchen God’s Wife and The Hundred Secret Senses.

LuLing Young is now in her eighties, and finally beginning to feel the effects of old age. Trying to hold on to the evaporating past, she begins to write down all that she can remember of her life as a girl in China. Meanwhile, her daughter Ruth, a ghostwriter for authors of self-help books, is losing the ability to speak up for herself in front of the man she lives with. LuLing can only look on, helpless: her prickly relationship with her daughter does not make it easy to discuss such matters. In turn, Ruth has begun to suspect that something is wrong with her mother: she says so many confusing and contradictory things.

Ruth decides to move in with her ailing mother, and while tending to her discovers the story LuLing wrote in Chinese, of her tumultuous life growing up in a remote mountain village known as Immortal Heart. LuLing tells of the secrets passed along by her mute nursemaid, Precious Auntie; of a cave where dragon bones are mined and where Peking Man was discovered; of the crumbling ravine known as the End of the World, where Precious Auntie’s bones lie, and of the curse that LuLing believes she released through betrayal…

Set in contemporary San Francisco and pre-war China, The Bonesetter’s Daughter is an excavation of the human spirit. With great warmth and humour, Amy Tan gives us a mesmerising story of a mother and daughter discovering together that what they share in their bones through history and heredity is priceless beyond measure.


I have to admit that I found Ruth an extremely boring character that is good at putting me to sleep. She's a ghost-writer for other people, never speaks up for herself and can be described as selfish and extremely ignorant. How come the white girl never fully questioned or asked Ruth what she meant by pregnancy and sex? Precious Auntie and Luling are far more interesting and I liked reading their stories. Precious Auntie is an interesting character I would have liked to learn more about, as well as Luling. In this book Luling and her "sister" are clearly more friends than enemies and it was a relief to see that kind of relationship. I also liked seeing the good Chinese men such as Luling's first husband or possibly Luling's father. I didn't like Ruth's lover because he felt fake, as well as his solution and resolution. Not enough time has passed for me to buy that he truly has changed. I personally wish I could have known more about Luling's first husband.


Although the book was somewhat enjoyable, I wasn't sure what I should have learned from it.


I wished that instead of naming the village Immortal Heart she would have actually given real names and locations as to where they are located. The whole atmosphere is sleepy and somehow "other" or "mystical" China. I'm not sure of foot-binding but by 1930s foot-binding was outlawed. Also number of things weren't cleared up: did Luling truly believe that Ruth was acting as a medium or did she playact? Why did Ruth go childless? This is told both in first and third person narrative: Ruth from third person narrative, and Luling first person narrative.

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.


I don't like giving a 2 star rating to Amy Tan novel, but I feel it deserves one. If you have read my reviews of The Joy Luck Club, The Hundred Secret Senses and The Kitchen God's wife, I graded these 0-1 stars due to stereotypes and depictions of Chinese men as well as the writing styles and frustrations with the books for one reason or another. This is actually a really improved novel: first of all she makes the good Chinese men really visible, and balances the characters out; in some ways there was some unpredictability about it because the two female "sisters" don't argue or hate one another's guts. These are the only positive points I can think of. And others? This is an Amy Tan novel after all. Expect the secret birth story, the exoticness of China, the daughter character being childless and dating a Caucasian love interest, the relationship at odds. One thing I didn't appreciate is slight depiction of Jews in there: I didn't appreciate that Jewish people are described as shallow and will be willing to abandon their elder family members. Not true at all, at least in my family.

2 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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