Monday, January 7, 2013

Book Review: The Joy Luck Club (1989)

The Joy Luck Club is an inter-generational novel about four mothers who grew up in China and emigrated to San Francisco and their daughters. Every chapter is told in the first person perspective of one of these eight women, each one getting two chapters; the first set are the mothers' experiences in China, the next are the childhood experiences of the daughters growing up as the children of immigrants, then those children as adults, and finally the recent experiences of the mothers, along with further details of their lives since being in China. Being such, it reads more like a set of independent short stories rather than a cohesive novel. A further difficulty is that the experiences of the daughters are so similar (more so when they are adults than as kids, the latter of which are much more entertaining to read) that I had trouble keeping them straight and they became more of a homogeneous blob of information rather than unique stories. But this apparent blemish can actually be turned into an advantage, which I will explain. It is the stories of the mothers that make The Joy Luck Club worthwhile. The reader is told of stories of one mother who lived in an impoverished village but made local women feel like trendy socialites by hosting potluck gatherings where they would play mahjong. Such comforts weren't to last, however, because this village was soon to be encountered by the invading Japanese. We witness the hardship of this mother who had to carry by hand everything that was precious to her, including her twin infant daughters. Another one of these mothers faced the difficulties of an arranged marriage and gives a humorous account of how she dealt with it. And another tells the story of how she came to live with her mother who was one of the many wives of a well-to-do man. It was stories like these that I was looking for when I began my novels about Asian women binge. The advantage I mentioned is that these auxiliary stories about their daughters could imaginably be skipped over without losing much of the overall flavor of the book. Thus, if one is interested in the subject, I would highly recommend the chapters pertaining to the elder generation with the advice that the cost of skipping the middle chapters is quite low.

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