Written by the California-born daughter of Chinese
immigrants, The Joy Luck
Club features eight women: four Chinese immigrants and
an adult daughter of each. The book opens at a meeting of the Joy Luck
Club, a group one of the mothers founded decades before when she invited the three other San Francisco newcomers to
get together regularly for companionship and mah jong. The action
mostly takes place away from the club, though, and the friendships of
the club members aren't critical. This book is all
about the relationship of each mother and her daughter.
Every chapter is a first-person narrative by one of the women, except for the mother who has recently died, whose daughter speaks for both of them. The older generation's narratives focus on the hardships of their youth in pre-1949 China, where females were treated as little more than property. Not surprisingly, in America the women have big dreams for their daughters, who sometimes feel used for bragging rights. Inevitably, the daughters disappoint, failing to become prodigies, straying from Chinese ways, choosing spouses unwisely. While well educated and Americanized, the younger generation struggles to integrate the dual cultures.
In this moving novel Tan pulls off the remarkable achievement of making every one of the women sympathetic. The shifting narrators and their stories can be hard to keep straight, and readers might want to keep a pencil nearby to jot down notes.
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