Saturday, August 1, 2009

The Bonesetter's Daughter by Amy Tan

Rating: 3.5 stars
Pages: 368
Genre: Fiction (Chinese-American)
Series: No
Publication Date: 2001

Synopsis (From Google Books):
Ruth Young and her widowed mother, LuLing, have always had a tumultuous relationship. Now, before she succumbs to forgetfulness, LuLing gives Ruth some of her writings, which reveal a side of LuLing that Ruth has never known. . . .

In a remote mountain village where ghosts and tradition rule, LuLing grows up in the care of her mute Precious Auntie as the family endures a curse laid upon a relative known as the bonesetter. When headstrong LuLing rejects the marriage proposal of the coffinmaker, a shocking series of events are set in motion–all of which lead back to Ruth and LuLing in modern San Francisco. The truth that Ruth learns from her mother’s past will forever change her perception of family, love, and forgiveness.


Amy Tan has a gift of writing about the mother and daughter experience. One that transcends race or culture. The Bonesetter's Daughter is about the experience of a daughter coming to terms with her mother's illness and past. Just like the characters in The Joy Luck Club Ruth and her mother LuLing have a difficult relationship. Mostly do to the fact that the mother grow up in China and her daughter was raised in America. It is also a story of a daughter learning to appreciate her mother and culture a little more.

The Bonesetter's Daughter is a lot like The Joy Luck Club. It has fewer main characters. But Ruth and LuLing's relationship is almost exactly like that between the mothers and daughters featured in The Joy Luck Club. There is friction because Ruth does not understand her mother. Her mother is from China and after moving to America held on to a lot of her Chinese Culture. LuLing has been in the United States for almost 50 years yet doesn't speak or understand English that well. LuLing is also secretive of her past. All these situations lead to a very strained relationship that leave both Ruth and LuLing feeling unappreciated and misunderstood by one another.

The story is told from two points of view. The first person point of view is told by LuLing when she is describing her experience in China. The third person point of view in current times. It is the first person point of view that is the most catching. LuLing voice is powerful. The imagery and language that Tan uses to describe what she (LuLing) went through was fantastic. It expressed not only what the character was going through but the myths and beliefs that are part of Chinese culture. The strength in the story lies in the first person narrative of LuLings story.

The one major draw back with the story is that there are a lot of similarities between The Joy Luck Club and The Bonesetter's Daughter. Ruth and LuLing's characters and circumstances could have been switched with any of the mother-daughter pairs in The Joy Luck Club and they would not have been out of place. It makes theme and relationship between them appear recycled and therefore the outcome is not a surprise.

Also, there has been criticism online that Tan has a tendency to use stereotypes in her writing. I noticed that in this novel but that could be because I was looking for it.

Pros: Imagery, Storyline, Characters
Cons: Formula, Stereotypes, Predictable

Overall Recommendation:

Highly recommended with a precaution: If you have read The Joy Luck Club (or maybe any of her others works) the style and formula are easy noticeable and takes away some of the impact of the story.

TBR Challenge (12 out of 12 Books)

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  1. I read both Tan books, but there were many years between them, so the repetition, tho noticeable, didn't bother me that much.

  2. I think that was my problem. I read The Joy Luck Club not to long ago. Therefore it is still fresh in my mind and I was able to pull details and characters from it to compare to The Bonesetter's Daughter