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.
There’s only one fatal flaw in this wonderfully written novel about eight Chinese-American women and that flaw is its seven first person voice narrators. Let me repeat that: Seven narrators who all sound the same. The three living mothers and four daughters tell stories of their childhood, stories of growing up, and stories of their relationships with the most important women in their lives. Mothers and daughters.
The problem is that when you put down the book for a day or two—like I had to do repeatedly—it becomes unclear whether the chess prodigy had a scarred mother or if her mother blew out the red marriage candle? Did the lazy pianist’s mother love her husband or just the freedom marrying him gave her? Who was the cunning one? Who was betrayed, raped, and shunned? Who found her long lost family.
Actually, I know that last one, but everything else blends together. All these women could just be sides of one complex character trapped between two cultures. It would be a cool side-effect if it were intentional. I just think the message could have been conveyed just as well from a distance the third person limited voice allows. It would have been subtler without sacrificing the interpersonal nuances that were lost to me.