The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan

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The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan

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Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Ani Johnson
Reviewed by Ani Johnson
Summary: A modern classic about Chinese immigrant women adapting to American culture and their new American daughters while their American daughters grow to understand their parents: beautiful, insightful and downright lovely.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 368 Date: June 1991
Publisher: Vintage
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-0749399573

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The Joy Luck Club was Jing Mei's mother's idea. After arriving in the US from China in 1949 she invited three other Chinese immigrant ladies to join. The four would meet to play Mah Jong and feast on morsels that none of them could really afford. Once played out, they shared stories of the land they'd left. The evenings evolve over time; the food becomes affordable, men join the discussions but the core remains the same. Four Chinese mothers living a new life while sharing moments enjoyed and regretted, discussing their children and parents and telling stories of wisdom, happiness and, sometimes, intense pain.

Although I'm ashamed to say that this is the first time I've read Amy Tan's much acclaimed modern classic, as my imagination melded with the story from the first page, I can definitely see what the fuss is about.

When I say 'story', to begin with it seems like a collection of stories, plural. In the same way that Whitney Otto's How to Make an American Quilt cleverly brings together disparate lives connected only by origin and a hobby, Amy lays before us people connected by the Chinese culture and their weekly Mah Jong meeting.

It's written in first person narrative, the bane of many a reader's life, but when written with this much skill and precision it all makes sense to the extent that it becomes the only method to use. We listen to a character and then warm to them, sympathising before we hear another viewpoint which hoists us on our own petard of first impressions, spinning us round totally. If I was going to be churlishly nit-picky I'd mention that it's difficult at first to remember who's who but it's such a rich collection of stories that they become more important than a cast list (that eventually becomes clearer).

Initially we see the difficulties of the second generations as they grow, wanting to embrace the American culture with all its liberationist tendencies while still feeling the pull of the old country in the form of their parents. Sometimes the disconnection between the generations is amusing, as in the case of Waverly's mother who judged her child's chess expertise by the number of pieces captured rather than the final outcome. Sometimes we're uplifted as when Rose finds the strength to fight for herself despite being born 'without wood' as her mother's background would have her believe.

It's not all smiles and cheers though. Amy has a unique way of opening up the despair hidden in these ladies' past lives. For instance we witness the forces that would make a mother leave her babies by the roadside in hope of a better life for them. Then there's An-Mei's mother, tricked into the life of a concubine.

Indeed as we reach the moving prose at the end where the mothers are permitted to explain more we gasp, we weep and we understand why the children have American names signifying new hope in a new country. In fact, if you're like me, you'll not only understand but, as the colourful insights into Chinese culture and beliefs trickle into modern day prose that bridges the generations, will return to relive the experience again and again.

We'd like to thank Vintage for providing us with a copy for review.

Further Reading: If this appeals and you'd like to read more about the historical struggles of the Chinese both at home and round the world, we recommend As the Earth Turns Silver by Alison Wong.

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Buy The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan at


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