Tuesday, September 2, 2008

American Born Chinese Disconnect

35. The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan

The title is my own clever nod to the Indian-American ABCD acronym. If you're curious, read Born Confused by Tenuja Desai Hidier. There's lyric prose for modern youth if there is any.

The Joy Luck Club was published in 1989 but it is a novel of 1940s China and 1950s and '60s U.S. More than a book, this is a collection of reflections from Chinese-born mothers and their American daughters. The New York Times Book Review, quoted on the back cover, used the word "vignettes." I like the sound of the word, and in this case the meaning is perfectly applicable as well.

It is not so much the stories that are important, though the history and sense of displacement are, but the feelings of the characters toward each other. The crux of the book is the never even close to breached chasm between an immigrant mother and assimilated daughter. The book is amusing in places, certainly tragic, even hopeful, but it reminds readers (poignantly) of what they already know.

This will be nostalgic or at least familiar for Chinese-American readers, and somewhat insightful for others. Amy Tan has a gift for capturing life as it is. I had been planning to read this for a while, and I also have The Bone Setter's Daughter unread on my shelf, though I don't know if I will get to it this year.

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