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The Joy Luck Club

The Joy Luck Club - Amy Tan I’ll just come out and say it: I think this book is very good, and I think it will hold up well over time. There are a lot of different story lines running through The Joy Luck Club (TJLC), so how you rate it may depend on where you place your focus, but here’s why I think it is so good:Summary On the face of it, this book follows the intertwined lives of four families of Chinese immigrants and their first-generation American children. I was most drawn to the story of Jing-mei ("June"). After the passing of her often-distant mother (Suyuan), June suddenly takes an interest in getting to know Suyuan's circle of friends better. In the course of meeting with them weekly to play mah-jongg, June gradually develops a comprehension of her mother's very full, very different life in China so long ago. Suyuan's courage in the face of the upheaval of war and the pain of spousal infidelities casts June's childhood memories into drastically different context. Eventually, June discovers the existence of step-sisters she didn't know she had, whom she ultimately travels to find. Themes with broad appeal I’m neither Chinese nor a woman, yet I found I could not only relate to everything going on, but was frequently reminded of people in my own life. Parents the world over deal with pride and disappointment in their children. Each generation from the dawn of time has lamented how “kids these days” seem so quick to abandon sacred and meaningful old ways, in favor of vacuous and superficial fads. So often, progeny don’t comprehend the hardships their elders endured. Children struggle with parental expectations, and the all many ways their parents seem “out of touch” and unable to fully appreciate the particulars of their lives. Every family has inter- and intragenerational friction, even power struggles, at times. Sibling rivalry is a universal experience among anyone who has siblings. For hundreds of years, immigrants from all walks have come to America, hoping to partake in the economic opportunities, and frequently wishing to establish a new life and a new identity here, but also hoping to instill in their children a sense of heritage and identity, and to see them carry on some of the traditions and treasured values of the Old World. How each of us manages (or doesn't manage) to navigate at least some of these issues is a large part of who we are. It's the stuff of our individual characters, and composes much of our lives' stories. I feel all these things in The Joy Luck Club, and I feel them sincerely. In that sense, this is a very human book. Just because most of the characters are women does not make this “chick lit”. Likewise, the characterization of TJLC as niche "Chinese-American lit", merely because the characters happen to be Chinese is no more apt than calling Solzhenitsyn’s Cancer Ward “a story about some white guys”. Amy Tan's skill as a writerAt the center are four older women, all immigrated from China, who now meet weekly in their San Francisco neighborhood to play mah-jongg and gossip. They gossip about - what else?- their families… which introduces us to their children (all daughters). The mah-jongg backdrop turns out to be a very organic device for introducing characters. TJLC begins in present day, but various reminiscences start filling in back stories. Because the writing is sincere, and the characters have depth, what unfolds is a larger collage of the lives of four families, which is richer and more universal than just a pigeon-holed story about “immigrants”, or “the Chinese-American experience” or “mothers and daughters”, etc. Tan’s writing is uncommonly fluid; characters emerge, take center stage for a while, and then slip off again into the periphery. Her real skill in this is in letting each character make enough of an impression so the reader will keep all the players straight. That was my experience exactly. Often when books have too many characters, I find myself thinking “now which one was this person again?“ Not the case with TJLC; Amy Tan strikes just the right balance, gradually fleshing out each character, but also maintaining the momentum of the narration so it doesn’t seem to get bogged down in a lot of expository dialogue or dissecting descriptions. I don’t mean to gush, but too often stories of this scope tend to fragment as “the center cannot hold”. Rooting everything back to the four women seems to averted that problem. Moreover, Amy Tan has a very liquid, readable style. We’ve all plodded through books that made us very conscious of the fact that we were sitting there, reading a book. We’ve all snapped out of a dazed state to find we’ve been staring, uncomprehending, at some word for seconds, maybe minutes. For me, The Joy Luck Club was at the other end of the bell curve: several times I glanced down at a page number to realize “Oh! I just blew through thirty pages like it was nothing!”At this point, I was going to launch into (what I imagined to be) a deconstruction of some less favorable GR reviews of this book. On reflection, I don’t think the The Joy Luck Club requires any such assistance. It’s an excellent book, engaging and memorable; I thoroughly enjoyed it, and it has my highest recommendation.