Saturday, August 29, 2009

48. The Bonesetter's Daughter by Amy Tan

Alright, I'm off the re-read road. At least for now. Just being in my childhood room is giving me all kinds of ideas, remembering old favorites, books I've longed for over the past year. But I discovered what I think is the last of a cache of used books I bought last time I was home and didn't finish then. The copy of The Bonesetter's Daughter that I snagged is hardcover and fresh inside and out. Perhaps it was read only once before me. I received thanks from the books I recently sent out to bookmoochers, all remarking on the good shape. I try to be easy on books, I was even more fanatical about it when I was younger. I would open books only a little bit and lean into them, never breaking a spine.

I liked this much better than the only other Amy Tan book I've read, The Joy Luck Club. I think I prefer third person writing in general, except in the case of extraordinary authors like Jonathan Safran Foer. The Bonesetter's Daughter also reveals much more about life in rural China, rather than 1990s America, which I'm more familiar with and therefore find less interesting. I do like that Tan understands the cadence of older Chinese women , that she doesn't romanticize relationships between parents and children, and emphasizes the particular difficulties between first and second generation Americans. These are issues that I feel to be strongly important, even though both my parents were born here, and my father's father, who was born in Germany, picked up English perfectly except for a light lilt. I have worked with many Asian immigrants and visitors from Asia coming here to learn English, and Tan's writing brings me back to those experiences. She also teaches me more about what I don't understand about the past and culture of China.

As with The Joy Luck Club, you don't have to be Chinese to appreciate the relationship of an accomodating middle-aged daughter to her critical, guilt-inducing mother. It's a common trope in any culture. Ruth, the daughter, is predictably easy to relate to, and her relationship to the man she lives with provides a different kind of story, that is both age-old and uniquely American. LuLing, the mother, comes most alive in the stories she wrote about her childhood, that are translated for the reader. There is a mysterious plot surrounding her mother, Precious Auntie, who is the Bonesetter's daughter of the title. However, as I suspect to be the case with Tan, the book is about characters and relationships, not plot. It is simply that a cohesive plot makes this full novel flow more smoothly and express much more, than the series of loosely bound vignettes.Italic

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