The Joy Luck Club | book review


Title: The Joy Luck Club
Author: Amy Tan
Series: n/a
Publisher: G. P. Putnam’s Sons
Publication Date: 1989
Genre(s): Adult fiction, Asian-American

Opening Line:

My father has asked me to be the fourth corner at the Joy Luck Club.

The Synopsis

A group of women in China created the Joy Luck Club many years ago in the face of horror. While the outside world was in great turmoil, the women inside the Joy Luck Club ate food, played mahjong, and shared stories of joy. Many did not understand how these women could be so carefree and happy during such dreadful times, but the Club was very necessary for these women. Years later, these women become mothers and raise their daughters in America. They even create a new Joy Luck Club in the land of the free. When one of the women die, it is up to her daughter, Jing-mei Woo, to take her place at the mahjong table, and with this honored responsibility comes a deep insight in her mother’s (and her mother’s) life.

The Plot

I find it incredibly difficult to summarize The Joy Luck Club because it’s a 300-page novel with a lot of content. I’m trying my best, though. Basically, the story focuses on Chinese-American immigrants living in San Francisco. The novel is split into 4 sections, each containing 4 narrated chapters by 4 separate characters. There are 4 mothers and 4 daughters (but one of the mother’s is dead, so Jing-mei narrates twice as much as the other characters). The novel heavily focuses on mother-daughter relationships, which was hard for me to read about since my own relationship with my mother is pretty much nonexistent as of this summer. But literally the entire novel is about the Chinese mothers and their disconnect with their Chinese-American daughters. It deals heavily with Chinese culture and the importance of staying true to your roots. Like I said earlier, the novel is 300 pages, but felt a lot longer to me. I think this is due to the fact that there are 7 different speakers, all with different stories bouncing from past to present. And the mothers tell their own stories about their mothers, which throws more characters into the mix… It’s a lot to keep track of, and since the novel is basically just comprised of a bunch of vignettes (short, important scenes that focus on a key moment/character to give the reader information about that character), it’s not as concise as a linear novel. The stories are interesting, and progressively get darker, but there’s so much narration as opposed to dialogue and (at least for me) everything just gets jumbled around… I did enjoy the stories for the most part, I just thought it was hard to read: 1) For my own personal mother issues 2) Because there were too many characters with too many backgrounds and stories 3) It was too long and too wordy to remain interesting.

The Characters

So like I said, there are 4 mothers and 4 daughters that are the focal point of this story (mother —> daughter): Suyuan Woo (deceased) —> Jing-mei “June” Woo; An-mei Hsu —> Rose Hsu Jordan; Lindo Jong —> Waverly Jong; Ying-ying St. Clair —> Lena St. Clair. It’s a lot to keep track of, because when the mothers are delving into their own narrations of the past, they speak of their own mothers, and I’m not even going to get into that… Jing-mei, as I mentioned, has the most narrated chapters since her mother is dead before the novel even begins. Since she has the most chapters, readers typically feel closer to her than the others. I related to Jing-mei and Waverly in a few ways, but for the most part, I found that I disliked all the daughter and mothers equally. This is one of those books where I’m not fond of anyone, and I’m not sure I necessarily liked the book so much as I appreciated it. As always, it’s hard for me to relate to these culture-specific texts, but I did very much relate to the mother-daughter aspect of it.

The Writing

The writing wasn’t bad at all. This is my first Amy Tan novel, but I’ve heard a lot about her in my English lit classes. I had no problem with her writing at all. In fact, she uses a lot of similes that I found myself enjoying quite a bit. I like her use of figurative language and I like how completely developed her characters were. I can see why she’s a very popular writer, especially within the Asian-American genre. This is probably one of the only culture-specific novel I haven’t outright disliked.

My Rating

3 star

Favorite Quote(s): “Can you imagine how it is, to want to be neither inside nor outside, to want to be nowhere and disappear?”

“My mother knows how to hit a nerve. And the pain I feel is worse than any other kind of misery. Because what she does always comes as a shock, exactly like an electric jolt, that grounds itself permanently in my memory.”

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