The Joy Luck Club
Written By: Amy Tan
Published By: Ivy Books
Reviewed by Justine Manzano
The last three times I spoke to my mother, we argued about something. Sometimes it was something as little as how many times she needs to call me in a row while I’m in a movie theater. Other times it was something as complex and personal as how she has decided I should behave with my husband. Relationships between mothers and their daughters are complicated to begin with – add to that a large cultural difference and it can only get worse. In taking my Multicultural Literature class this past summer, I discovered how well this very topic is addressed throughout Amy Tan’s novel “The Joy Luck Club.”
“The Joy Luck Club” is a composition of several titled vignettes, following four sets of mothers and daughters: mothers who are Chinese natives who have come to America for a better life and are struggling to try to hold on to their traditions and daughters who are American citizens who have lived their entire lives in this country and are resistant of their mother’s Chinese traditions, believing them to be embarrassing. The main story follows June Woo whose mother recently passed away, and who is attempting to deal with the new information that she has left her – the twin daughters her mother left behind in China during the invasion of Japanese soldiers were alive and well and eager to meet her. As she copes with this idea, June gains the opportunity to learn more about her late mother. Another story string follows Waverly Jong and her mother, Lindo. A former childhood chess champion, once Waverly stopped playing she seems to have lost her mother’s approval permanently. In her adult years, she fights for approval from Lindo, arguing over her choices in men and what it means to be Chinese-American. Lindo’s stories tell of her forced marriage at a young age and adapting to life in America and how all of these things reflect on her relationship with her daughter.
Another mother-daughter pairing is An-Mei Hsu and Rose Hsu. An-Mei, the mother in this duo, tells the story of her life growing up as the daughter of a concubine, and how that informed her life and the life of her daughter. Rose tells tales of how the death of her brother destroyed her and her mother’s faith and about how her mother helped her stand firm during a divorce in which her husband attempted to take everything away from her. The final mother-daughter pairing is Ying-Ying and Lena St. Clair. Ying-Ying quickly reveals herself to be the more unstable of the mothers, having been married to a cruel man before Lena’s father and having murdered her first child in a moment of deep depression after the disappointment of that first husband. Lena doesn’t fair too well either, being saddled with the most actively imagination of all the daughters and having her mother’s penchant for controlling choices in men.
The relationships between the four sets of mothers and daughters paint a picture of both the generational gap and the cultural gap that occurs between 1st generation Americans and their mothers. Brilliantly written, Tan makes us feel for the many trials of these women, as they try to cope with each other and their situations. Written through clever dialogue, tear-jerking drama and a bit of self-referential comedy, "The Joy Luck Club" will have a special effect on you.
I was so glad that this class allowed me the opportunity to remember that I always wanted to read this book. I was not at all disappointed.