No. of pages: 332 pages
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Published Date: 30 April 1990
Author: Amy Tan
Setting: China and California, United States
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.
This book reminds me so much of the culture and routines among the Chinese folk and how true it is from generation to generation. Mothers expect their offspring to perform and emerge as successful individuals much to the chagrin of their daughters. Mothers teach and guide their children on how to behave and how to carry themselves even if the foreign culture is strong and threatens to drive a wedge between parent and child.
It was a conundrum, really. It was a difficult book to read because there was so much Chinese in the story that it reminded me so much of myself; at the same time, it was difficult to put down because I kept wanting to know what happens at the end of each chapter. I desperately wanted to know who died, who left, who came and who went. The word kiasu comes to mind.
The story told of a moving and electric exploration of two warring cultures: American and Chinese, with a widespread focus on the lives of four Chinese women who moved to San Francisco in their youth and their very-American 30-ish daughters. The tension of feelings and emotions were strong among these older women and their daughters as both parties struggled to make themselves understand one another. The generation gap was as wide as the ocean but that didn’t stop the mothers from trying, time and time again, to make their daughters see the truths of the old ways of living.
Yet neither side is capable of believing how far and how real these truths are. The four mothers feel that their children could do better and be better. The four daughters feel that their mothers are so stuck in their old ways, that things aren’t always in black and white (sometimes there are 16 million colours too, just like your smartphone screen).
I hate to admit it but the book rings all too true and reminds me a lot of my childhood years. Since when do we ever listen to our parents because they know they’re right? We only rebel because we think we know better. What happens when we don’t? If our parents didn’t force us to do well, we blame them for it. If they forced us to study harder, we blame them for making us suffer.