Saturday, 13 October 2012
The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan
The Joy Luck Club is an excellent rendering of the immigrant experience. By choosing to focus on four mothers and four daughters, Tan covers in detail what it is like to be a first or second generation immigrant to America and how difficult it can be to pass on your culture in a different country. As a reader you feel for both the mothers and the daughters;
"They are frightened. In me, they see their own daughters, just as ignorant, just as unmindful of all the truths and hopes they bought to America. They see daughters who grow impatient when their mothers talk in Chinese, who think they are stupid when they explain things in fractured English. They see daughters who will bear grandchildren born without any connecting hope passed from generation to generation."
Although the daughters were easier for me as a Westerner to relate to, the stories of their mothers were more interesting. The fourth part of the book, Queen Mother of the Western Skies, is all about their lives in China before immigrating to America and this was the most fascinating part. I was expecting the book to feel a little dated given that it was initially published in the 1980s but this wasn't the case at all. The actual experiences of the women might have been time-linked but The Joy Luck Club is about more than just that, it's about mother-daughter relationships too and that theme was universal enough to make the book stand the test of time.
The only problem I had with the book was linked to one of its strengths. I liked that many stories were included as this covered the immigrant experience so well but at times The Joy Luck Club felt more like a collection of short stories rather than a novel. There's a list of mothers and daughters provided at the beginning but I did find it hard to keep all of the characters straight and especially to remember who was related to who. I had to keep flipping through the book to find out which mother experience matched with this daughter experience and that was frustrating at times. Organising the book by generation was a good choice in many ways but the consequence was that at times it was hard to link the characters.
Overall, I'm glad that I finally picked up The Joy Luck Club. It's deservedly a classic amongst books about immigration to the West and all of the stories in it were engaging and well written.
Source: Personal copy
First Published: 1989
My Copy: Vintage UK, 1998 (purchased second hand)
Score: 4 out of 5
1. Shanghai Girls by Lisa See - Two sisters, May and Pearl, move to America following Japanese attacks on Shanghai. This is more gritty than Joy Luck Club but is also strong on the immigrant experience and mother-daughter relationships.
2. Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok - Kimberly Chang moves with her mother from Hong Kong to New York. Again, this really shows the gritty side of struggling to survive in a new country and is beautifully written.
3. The Weight of Water by Sarah Crossan -This one is a bit different as it's YA and a novel in verse, but it's all about the experiences of Polish girl Kasienka who migrates to the UK as a teenager. Although it's a different culture and setting, much about starting over in a new country is universal.