I’m fascinated with the American immigrant experience. And, as well, how that experience bears on the formation of the immigrants’ American-born children. That was a big reason I wanted to read Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club.
TJLC isn’t so much a novel in the traditional (Western?) sense as it is a collection of vignettes about those experiences, as recalled by four Chinese women who immigrated to the U.S. during the 1940’s and their four daughters. The structure is intentional, designed to mirror a mahjong game. But while I appreciated each of the 16 snapshots as unique pieces of art, I found myself wanting more…to be able to enter more deeply into their stories. So I’m not sure that I loved TJLC as much as I thought I would.
I wonder how much I missed in each of those snapshots, being a cultural outsider? Tan’s narrative voice works hard to translate much of what’s there to an American audience. But I know there were still juicy bits I passed right over.
When I saw the movie (which I did love) in the mid-1990’s, I remember asking a 1st-generation American-born Chinese friend if she had identified with any of the four daughters’ stories. She replied no, but that she really appreciated the attention to cultural details, like the one family who kept the plastic covers on their furniture indefinitely, just like her family had done. I hadn’t even noticed.
I also remember that when I saw the movie, the mother-daughter tensions really resonated with me. Maybe because that’s a common issue women wrestle through in their mid-to-late-20’s. But now that I’m a mother of a daughter myself, I saw and understood much more the perspective of the mothers in the book. My daughter’s only five, but I’m already wrestling through questions like, How on earth am I not going to unload all my baggage/insecurities/fears/etc. on her?
Another theme that stood out to me (that I missed in the movie 15 years ago) was the experience of a birthmother relinquishing her children. And how much adopted children are sometimes haunted by their birthfamily and backstory, even if (or maybe more so because) they are unknown to them.
Who else has read The Joy Luck Club? What did you think of it?
April’s Book Club selection is Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows. Make sure you read an unabridged edition of the book!