Saturday, June 21, 2008

Mothers and Daughters

The Bonesetter's Daughter by Amy Tan

Just like Steven Spielberg films will often have some type of father-son theme or reference at one point or another, Amy Tan's novels tend to have mother-daughter relationships at their center. Ruth and her mother Lu-Ling have always had a complicated relationship. At the beginning of the novel, Lu-Ling is diagnosed with Alzheimer's. Ruth begins to realize that she really hadn't been paying that much attention because as she spends more time with her mother, it becomes clear to her that her mother has been suffering from Alzheimer's for a while now. In fact, Lu-Ling suspected something was amiss a few years before when she wrote down her life story for her daughter.

As a result of the Alzheimer's, Ruth moves back in with her mother, reprioritizes her life, and begins to analyze her relationships and her interactions with people. She also finally has her mother's manuscript translated from the Chinese, where she discovers her mother's story, and some family secrets. Ruth learns the history of her grandmother, and also finally understands certain parts of her own upbringing.

Like one of the characters in The Joy Luck Club, Ruth makes quite a few discoveries about her mother - her previous marriage, for example, her true family background etc. Suddenly her mother's recent comments make sense rather than simply being signs of dementia.

It seems like lately I've read a lot of novels that are good, but when it comes down to it, I have nothing substantial to say about them. They are entertaining, I like the characters, and yet, there's little to discuss.

1 comment:

exholt said...

Please be aware that Amy Tan is a controversial author within the Chinese/Chinese-American community as her writings are viewed by many as presenting an Orientalist image of Chinese culture.

I already had some misgivings about how The Joy Luck Club portrayed Chinese-American families as it seemed to reduce the wide diversity of Chinese-Americans into cliched stereotypes and rang false to me and other fellow Chinese-American high school classmates as we read it for our English class. The fact my White English teacher loved to imitate a quote from one of the characters in an attempted Chinese-accent did not help.

It only got worse when I attempted to read The Bonesetter's Daughter recently and had to put it down because it came across as a stronger rehashing of old Hollywood/American MSM orientalist stereotypes of portraying Chinese/Chinese-American culture.

This feeling was further confirmed by other Chinese/Chinese-Americans who complained about how some of the practices were not part of their experiences, inaccurate, and/or even possibly made up to appeal to American/Western Orientalist stereotypes of the "exotic orient".

Here's a criticism from one Asian-American feminist here: