Wednesday, December 5, 2007

The Bonesetter's Daughter by Amy Tan

This book has all the usual Amy Tan elements: fractured mother-daughter realtionships, disconnects between Chinese and American cultures, secrets from the past that haunt the present, etc.

It tells two storys. The first is set in modern day San Francisco, where Ruth fears her aging Chinese mother is succumbing to Alzheimers. She finds an account written by her mother that reveals shocking secrets about her mother's childhood in China. That leads us into the second story, which takes place in China during the excavation of Peking Man, a famous set of prehistoric skeletons found near the village where Ruth's mother spends her childhood. Ruth's mother not only reveals the hardships she endured as a girl who finds out she was adopted as a baby, but we also learn about Ruth's mother's birth mother, who is haunted by bad luck ever since her husband-to-be dies on their wedding day.

I found the story set in China to be quite engrossing, with the ups and downs in the characters's fortunes suspenseful and surprising. The story set in San Francisco is not as rich or involving, and Ruth is not as interesting a character as her mother is. The main draw of this book is learning about the fascinating culture of old world China, but the story itself doesn't rival Tan's Joy Luck Club.


cyn said...

i wasn't a fan of the joy luck club. but this book sounds interesting. i should try tan again, as i may read her with a different mindset and eye opposed to back in my college days.

thanks for the review!

moonrat said...

You know, I wasn't crazy about this book. I loved JOY LUCK and KITCHEN GOD'S WIFE, but (as you mention) the San Fransisco story was so thin and the rationale behind Ruth's mother's dementia was so patronizing that I was left with a really bad feeling about this book. I felt that in a lot of ways Amy Tan tried to address serious family issues about growing old (and/or having a family member grow old) but in the end she packages everything up with a nice shiny bow. For me, her present narrative undermined and overshadowed any richness she instilled in the China storyline.