Saturday, 13 October 2012
The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan
The Joy Luck Club is an excellent rendering of the immigrant experience. By choosing to focus on four mothers and four daughters, Tan covers in detail what it is like to be a first or second generation immigrant to America and how difficult it can be to pass on your culture in a different country. As a reader you feel for both the mothers and the daughters;
"They are frightened. In me, they see their own daughters, just as ignorant, just as unmindful of all the truths and hopes they bought to America. They see daughters who grow impatient when their mothers talk in Chinese, who think they are stupid when they explain things in fractured English. They see daughters who will bear grandchildren born without any connecting hope passed from generation to generation."
Although the daughters were easier for me as a Westerner to relate to, the stories of their mothers were more interesting. The fourth part of the book, Queen Mother of the Western Skies, is all about their lives in China before immigrating to America and this was the most fascinating part. I was expecting the book to feel a little dated given that it was initially published in the 1980s but this wasn't the case at all. The actual experiences of the women might have been time-linked but The Joy Luck Club is about more than just that, it's about mother-daughter relationships too and that theme was universal enough to make the book stand the test of time.
The only problem I had with the book was linked to one of its strengths. I liked that many stories were included as this covered the immigrant experience so well but at times The Joy Luck Club felt more like a collection of short stories rather than a novel. There's a list of mothers and daughters provided at the beginning but I did find it hard to keep all of the characters straight and especially to remember who was related to who. I had to keep flipping through the book to find out which mother experience matched with this daughter experience and that was frustrating at times. Organising the book by generation was a good choice in many ways but the consequence was that at times it was hard to link the characters.
Overall, I'm glad that I finally picked up The Joy Luck Club. It's deservedly a classic amongst books about immigration to the West and all of the stories in it were engaging and well written.
Source: Personal copy
First Published: 1989
My Copy: Vintage UK, 1998 (purchased second hand)
Score: 4 out of 5
1. Shanghai Girls by Lisa See - Two sisters, May and Pearl, move to America following Japanese attacks on Shanghai. This is more gritty than Joy Luck Club but is also strong on the immigrant experience and mother-daughter relationships.
2. Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok - Kimberly Chang moves with her mother from Hong Kong to New York. Again, this really shows the gritty side of struggling to survive in a new country and is beautifully written.
3. The Weight of Water by Sarah Crossan -This one is a bit different as it's YA and a novel in verse, but it's all about the experiences of Polish girl Kasienka who migrates to the UK as a teenager. Although it's a different culture and setting, much about starting over in a new country is universal.
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I have seen the movie years ago, but never read the book. Might have to try it.ReplyDelete
I didn't know there was a movie, I'll have to try watching it.Delete
I agree. One of the things I find confusing is to know who's who and which pair of mother and daughter are we talking about.I doubt I remember half of the story of the book because I read it so long ago. I am keen to watch the movie.ReplyDelete
I read Shanghai Girls and Girl in Translation. I like the latter better.
I'm glad I was not the only one a bit confused, I was worried I was just reading the book 'wrong'. I'm keen to watch the movie too.Delete
I preferred Shanghai Girls myself although I do think the writing was stronger in Girl in Translation.
I've read several of Amy Tan's novels, but never The Joy Luck Club. It's on the tbr shelf and sounds like one I would really enjoy. Soon, I hope...ReplyDelete
I hope you enjoy it!Delete
I'm glad to see you really enjoyed it because it's one of my favorites. I've read it a few times. I agree that it does seem like a series of connected short stories, and that the mothers' stories were more interesting.ReplyDelete
Have you read any other Amy Tan books, Anna? If so, what ones would you recommend?Delete
Books with a lot of characters can be so confusing at times! I really liked this book, haven't read it in years. I watched the movie, but that was years ago too!ReplyDelete
Oh man, I need to read The Joy Luck Club again. I read it in high school, but I'm curious to see what I would make of it as an adult. I think at the time I was mainly focused on trying to guess which parts of it would be on the test. :/ReplyDelete
It has been many years since I read The Joy Luck Club, but I do remember liking it very much, and seeking out other books about the immigrant experience, such as Lisa See's.ReplyDelete
I haven't read this for years - I think it, and my other Amy Tans must be in the boxes in storage... My mother and I read this book together when it first came out - and later, went together to see the film. I loved it, and went on to collect the others - my particular favourite is The Kitchen God's Wife. Tan's exploration of the multi-genration issues are handled with a candor that I've always enjoyed, and while I found varying levels of confusion keeping track of who's who in most of her books, in a way, that kind of fitted in with my sense of the stories anyway - nearly everything I've read over the years about China and migration from there to anywhere in the western world has had something of that as part of the fabric...ReplyDelete
I haven't read this one of Ms Tan's. I read The Kitchen God's Wife and was not very impressed. I shall have to give this one a go.ReplyDelete
I've read a few of her books but I'm not sure I could pick a favorite. They are all good in their own way. I know what you mean about this one feeling like a collection of short stories, though. I struggled with that aspect of it too. Someone just recently recommended her Saving Fish From Drowning, have you read that yet? I'll probably be adding that to my TBR list sometime soon.ReplyDelete
I saw this movie a long time ago before I knew anything about Amy Tan...I really liked the movie. It's been long enough though that I could probably read the book with a fresh mind :)ReplyDelete
I'm a big fan of Amy Tan and know that this is her most popular book, my I still prefer The Kitchen's God Wife (sorry Jane!) - have you read it? The themes are very similar to TJLC, but somehow I connected more with it. It's been over 10 years that I've read either of them.ReplyDelete
I've obviously heard a lot about this book, but I haven't had the chance to read it. Thanks for the review - I think it might resonate with me since my father came to the US as a teen, but my mom's family has been here since The Mayflower!ReplyDelete
I love this book so much!ReplyDelete
Sounds like a fascinating read, an eye opener into the the two cultures. Excellent review.ReplyDelete