Thursday, January 08, 2009

Reader's Diary #432- Amy Tan: The Joy Luck Club

A few Wednesday Compares ago, Amy Tan competed (unsuccessfully) against Beverly Cleary. I hadn't read any of Tan's work at the time, and between The Joy Luck Club and The Bonesetter's Daughter (the two Tan books currently on my bookshelf), it was recommended that I start with the former.

I enjoyed The Joy Luck Club a lot. It certainly takes on a lot of themes, not all of which are exclusive to the Chinese-American culture. I particularly enjoyed her take on the nature versus nurture debate. One of the mothers in the book is insistent that while her daughter was born to a Chinese family, she was born and raised in America and could not possibly think any way other than American. A second mother, in a later story, was confident that since Chinese heritage is in her daughter's blood, she could not think any way but Chinese.

The gulf between the mothers and the daughters is crucial to the book. The mothers were born and raised in China, the daughters in the United States. There were generational gaps and there were cultural gaps as well. Almost needless to say, the gaps were the source of a lot of tension.

That's what keep the book interesting for me, but it's also what made the book problematic. Though many of the details of each life were different, the mother-daughter relationships were all similarly strained and I sometimes had difficulty remembering who was who. I 've read many books of "interconnecting short stories" before (Margaret Laurence's A Bird in the House, David Bezmozgis' Natasha and Other Stories, and most recently Anthony de Sa's Barnacle Love) and about the only issue I had was why they've been labelled "interconnected short stories" rather than a novel; stories seamlessly related to one another. While the connections in The Joy Luck Club were equally as obvious, it didn't strike me as a novel in disguise. In fact, I would have enjoyed the stories more if I'd read them all separately.

In other words, I enjoyed the stories of The Joy Luck Club singularly, but not so much as a collection.


Anonymous said...

Saw the movie years ago, thought it was just alright. I'm guessing the book is better.

Just received 'The Islands of Divine Music' by John Addiego. A few people have advised approaching this one as "interconnected short stories" instead of a more conventional style novel.

Kailana said...

I own several Tan books but haven't read any of them... I think I would be more likely to start with that latter one. I should try and do so this year!

Barbara Bruederlin said...

I have never read this, although I meant to years ago. Not too late, I guess.

John Mutford said...

Wanda: I haven't seen the movie, nor do I having I burning desire to rent it.

Kailana: Though I enjoyed The Joy Luck Club somewhat, it'll be a while before I'm motivated to pick up another of hers. I'm scheduling it for 2011.

Barbara: Not that a male couldn't enjoy it, but it seems more aimed at females. I'd be interested in comparing your impressions with my own.

C. Marie Byars said...

Just saw the movie. Must act as the counselor for a film family of another background for a social work paper. Liked movie all right. Maybe will try book later.