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The Bonesetter's Daughter
     

The Bonesetter's Daughter

4.4 132
by Amy Tan, Nancy Miller (Editor)
 

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The Bonesetter’s Daughter dramatically chronicles the tortured, devoted relationship between LuLing Young and her daughter Ruth. . . . A strong novel, filled with idiosyncratic, sympathetic characters, haunting images, historical complexity, significant contemporary themes, and suspenseful mystery.”
Los Angeles Times

Overview

The Bonesetter’s Daughter dramatically chronicles the tortured, devoted relationship between LuLing Young and her daughter Ruth. . . . A strong novel, filled with idiosyncratic, sympathetic characters, haunting images, historical complexity, significant contemporary themes, and suspenseful mystery.”
Los Angeles Times

“TAN AT HER BEST . . . Rich and hauntingly forlorn . . . The writing is so exacting and unique in its detail.”
San Francisco Chronicle

“For Tan, the true keeper of memory is language, and so the novel is layered with stories that have been written down–by mothers for their daughters, passing along secrets that cannot be said out loud but must not be forgotten.”
The New York Times Book Review

“AMY TAN [HAS] DONE IT AGAIN. . . . The Bonesetter’s Daughter tells a compelling tale of family relationships; it layers and stirs themes of secrets, ambiguous meanings, cultural complexity and self-identity; and it resonates with metaphor and symbol.”
The Denver Post

Editorial Reviews

bn.com
The Barnes & Noble Review
Amy Tan tills the same fertile ground that propelled The Joy Luck Club and The Kitchen God's Wife to the top of bestseller lists in her latest novel, by exploring the immigrant experience in America, the love and tensions that exist between mothers and daughters, and the ways in which our affections can be lost in translation. Tan is at the height of her storytelling powers in The Bonesetter's Daughter, conjuring up a powerful and tragic story of murder, betrayal, and survival, in which dragon bones, vengeful ghosts, and family curses are are among the forces her characters must contend with daily.

The novel weaves together two separate narratives: the story of LuLing, a young girl in 1930s China, and that of LuLing's daughter, Ruth, as a middle-aged woman in modern San Francisco. Ruth is a ghostwriter chafing under the weight of a stagnant relationship and coming to terms with the growing senility of her formidable mother. A widow for four decades, LuLing struggles to raise Ruth while battling the demons that chased her from her childhood in China to her new life in America. She longs for her beloved Precious Auntie, whose restless spirit wanders the world because her dead body was thrown off a cliff, not buried.

Ruth reads LuLing's diary of her early life at the Mouth of the Mountain, a hamlet outside of Peking, beginning with an account of LuLing's almost idyllic childhood as the daughter of a prosperous ink merchant and as the charge of the tender Precious Auntie. The unforgettable Precious Auntie, a beautiful and willful woman who learned to read and speak her mind, is the daughter of a renowned bonesetter. When her father and the man she is to marry are both killed, she tries to commit suicide by drinking molten ink. The suicide attempt fails, but her face is horribly disfigured and her voice ruined.

Precious Auntie becomes caregiver to the infant LuLing and instills her own defiance and strength in the little girl. In a house and society where betrayal is the norm, Precious Auntie teaches LuLing respect, decency, and honor. But when a catastrophic marriage is arranged for LuLing to the son of the man who destroyed Precious Auntie's life, Precious Auntie reveals a brutal family secret to LuLing and then kills herself. LuLing is orphaned and suffers the harsh experiences of World War II before making the long journey to America.

Back in 1990s San Francisco, the muteness of Precious Auntie is mirrored by Ruth's own periodic speechlessness, which stems from a traumatic incident in her childhood. To find happiness, she must address that pain and find her voice as a woman and as a writer. Ruth's uncovering of her family's secrets opens the door to understanding not only her mother's fears and superstitions but her own as well. Tan tenderly and masterfully excavates the emotions that lie between the proud, elderly Chinese woman and her Americanized daughter, and it is in these episodes that her writing is most beautiful. It is also where the healing of LuLing and Ruth begins. (Dylan Foley)

Dylan Foley is a freelance writer living in Brooklyn, New York.

Library Journal
Winner of Best Audio Book For 2001.
New York Times Book Review
Tan's splendid new novels abounds not only with tellers and listeners, but with people who truly understands stories....
The Washington Post-Book World
In the end, it's the novel's depth of feeling that resonates and lingers. Tan writes with real soul.
Yvonne Zipp
Finding emotional healing in the face of disease has launched a thousand Movies of the Week, but in the hands of a writer as generous as Tan, it's a subject that still resonates as an antidote to grief.
Christian Science Monitor
Nancy Willard
Splendid . . . [W]hat marvelous characters she gives us . . . Tan's decision to tie up all the loose ends . . . does not mar the real ending, for which Tan's superb storytelling has amply prepared us.
New York Times Book Review
Glamour
A rich, fascinating read.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Tan's empathetic insight into the complex relationship of Chinese mothers and their American-born daughters is again displayed in her latest extraordinary, multi-layered tale. Now suffering from Alzheimer's, Lu Ling's references to the past are confusing and contradictory particularly her desperate attempts to communicate with her deceased Precious Auntie, who was her nursemaid and Ruth worries about her mother's health. But when Ruth translates Lu Ling's lengthy journal, she learns that her mother was once a strong-willed, courageous girl who overcame a background of family secrets and lies, persevered despite romantic heartbreak and survived tremendous hardships and suffering in war-torn China. Tan deftly handles narrative duties as Ruth, the exasperated but loving daughter, while Chen is perfect as the quick-speaking, accented Lu Ling. Lu Ling's first-person diary is particularly suited to audio: we hear the young girl directly reveal her secret hopes and dreams, and watch her grow from a naive innocent to a sharp-eyed survivor. Simultaneous release with the Putnam hardcover (Forecasts, Dec. 4). (Feb.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
KLIATT
To quote KLIATT's July 2001 review of the New Millennium audiobook edition: Tan's exquisite novel of the relationships between mothers and daughters, the past and the present, and the emotional restraints that bind our lives in ways we barely comprehend is stunning. Ruth is a successful ghostwriter of self-help books, but she feels constrained by the relationship with the man she's lived with for years and by her relationship with her mother, LuLing, who has had bouts of suicidal depression and now seems to be facing Altzheimer's. LuLing came to America from China as a young woman, and despite decades of life in California, she speaks English poorly. Visiting her is difficult for Ruth, but when her mother becomes dangerously forgetful, Ruth goes to live with her. Spending this time with LuLing brings back memories of her own childhood and her mother's childhood memories of Precious Auntie, LuLing's nanny. When Ruth runs across a sheaf of papers—her mother's story—written in Chinese, she finds a translator, and thus LuLing's story alternates with Ruth's; the themes of ink, ghosts, and bones (Precious Auntie was the daughter of a renowned healer, or bonesetter) are woven throughout the stories of three generations of women. KLIATT Codes: SA*—Exceptional book, recommended for senior high school students, advanced students, and adults. 2001, Ballantine, 368p., Moxley
Kirkus Reviews
Tan's fourth novel (and first in six years) wisely returns to the theme of mothers and daughters simultaneously estranged and bonded, a subject she treated so memorably in The Joy Luck Club and The Kitchen God's Wife. Appropriately enough, there are two subtly interconnected stories here. The first is that of Chinese-American "ghost writer" (specializing in "inspirational and self-improvement books") Ruth Young, a workaholic in her mid-40s who's living with a divorced Wasp and his two adolescent daughters while dealing as best she can with her frail, elderly mother LuLing, whose imperfect assimilation into American culture is becoming exacerbated by encroaching Alzheimer's. The story within it is LuLing's written memoir of her childhood in a village near Peking; orphanhood, marriage, and bereavement under Japanese invasion during WWII before she finally reinvented herself and emigrated to San Francisco; and especially her complex relationship with her "Precious Auntie," a victim of patriarchal oppression whose hold on LuLing's mind and heart long outlasts her death, and who proves to have been much more than the "nursemaid" who raised her. LuLing's frustrated efforts to learn the (occluded) truth about her origins is ingeniously linked to the archaeological searches that result in the discovery of "Peking Man"—a discovery later echoed by both Ruth's and LuLing's confrontations with confused and lost identities. The novel builds slowly, and a few sequences (including an overextended account of a visit to an assisted-living facility) seem inexplicably disproportionate. But the elaborate preparation pays generous dividends in thestunning final 50 or so pages: abeautifully modulated amalgam of grief, pride, resentment, and resignation—as Ruth accepts the consequences of knowing "she was her mother's child and mother to the child her mother had become." Tan strikes gold once again.

From the Publisher
“AS COMPELLING AS TAN’S FIRST BESTSELLER THE JOY LUCK CLUB. . . No one writes about mothers and daughters with more empathy than Amy Tan.”
The Philadelphia Inquirer

“[AN] ABSORBING TALE OF THE MOTHER-DAUGHTER BOND . . . THIS BOOK SING[S] WITH EMOTION AND INSIGHT.”
People

“POIGNANT AND BITTERSWEET . . . A STORY OF SECRETS AND REVELATION, ESTRANGEMENT AND RECONCILIATION.”
Rocky Mountain News

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780345457370
Publisher:
Random House Publishing Group
Publication date:
02/04/2003
Edition description:
First Edition
Pages:
400
Sales rank:
250,598
Product dimensions:
5.52(w) x 8.25(h) x 0.87(d)

Read an Excerpt

THE BONESETTER'S DAUGHTER
by Amy Tan

 

INTRODUCTION

The first time Amy Tan - The New York Times best-selling author of The Joy Luck Club, The Kitchen God's Wife, and The Hundred Secret Senses - learned her mother's real name as well as that of her grandmother was on the day she died. It happened as Tan and several siblings - unified by a need to feel helpful instead of helpless - gathered to discuss their dying mother's past and prepare her obituary. Tan was stunned when she realized she had not known her own mother's birth name. It was just one of several surprises. In the act of writing a simple obituary Tan came to realize there was still so much she did not know about her. Soon afterwards she began rewriting the novel she had been working on for five years. Inspired by her own experiences with family secrets kept by one generation from the next, and drawn from a lifetime of questions and images, the result is The Bonesetter's Daughter.
The story begins when Ruth Young, a ghostwriter of self-help books, comes across a clipped stack of papers in the bottom of a desk drawer. Young has been caring for her ailing mother, LuLing, who is beginning to show the unmistakable signs of Alzheimer's disease. Written in Chinese by LuLing years earlier, when she first started worrying something was wrong with her memory, the papers contain a narrative of LuLing's life as a girl in China, and the life of her own mother, the daughter of the Famous Bonesetter from the village of Xian Xin - Immortal Heart - near the Mouth of the Mountain. Within the calligraphed pages Ruth finds the truth about a mother's heart, what she cannot tell her daughter yet hopes her daughter will never forget.
With her latest novel Amy Tan explores the changing place one has in a family of names that were nearly forgotten. Just as she herself has done, Tan shows Ruth finding the secrets and fragments of her mother's past - its heartfelt desires, its deepest wounds, its most profound hopes - and with each new discovery reconfiguring her assessment of the woman who shaped her life, who is in her bones.
The extent to which Tan's newest novel mixes pure fiction with elements of autobiography is made clear by Tan herself. In acknowledgements of The Bonesetter's Daughter she writes, "The heart of this story belongs to my grandmother, its voice to my mother."

 

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

  1. Memory plays an important role in The Bonesetter's Daughter. How is Ruth's life affected by her childhood memories? How do LuLing's memories affect her behavior around Ruth?
     
  2. How does LuLing attempt to convey the difficulties of her formative years to Ruth? Does she succeed? Why/why not? In the constant sparring between Ruth and LuLing, who do you think is at fault?
     
  3. Much of The Bonesetter's Daughter revolves around superstition. How does this aspect of Chinese culture affect LuLing's actions? Is Ruth superstitious? Does she realize that she is manipulating her mother as a child?
     
  4. Why does Ruth try so hard to distance herself from her Chinese heritage?
     
  5. Why does Ruth lose her voice once a year on August 12th? In what way does Ruth "regain" her voice by the end of the novel?
     
  6. How does Ruth use her professional talents to her advantage? In what way does her job stifle her ability to communicate? Are there any inherent advantages of Ruth's uncanny ability to "spin gold out of dross"?
     
  7. How is LuLing affected by the family curse? How does she react when she learns of her mother's true identity? In your opinion, was it wrong for Precious Auntie to keep this secret from her daughter? Why does Precious Auntie keep this information from LuLing for so long?
     
  8. What is the significance of Ruth's learning the family name at the end of The Bonesetter's Daughter? What does Ruth learn about her name that helps change her opinion of her mother?
     
  9. How does LuLing rebel against Precious Auntie? Is Ruth similar to LuLing in this respect? What are the consequences of Ruth's insolence in her teenage years? Whose rebellion causes more lasting results?
     
  10. What does Ruth learn about her mother and about her own cultural heritage that helps to mend her strained relationship with Art, as well as with Fia and Dory?

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What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher
“AS COMPELLING AS TAN’S FIRST BESTSELLER THE JOY LUCK CLUB. . . No one writes about mothers and daughters with more empathy than Amy Tan.”
The Philadelphia Inquirer

“[AN] ABSORBING TALE OF THE MOTHER-DAUGHTER BOND . . . THIS BOOK SING[S] WITH EMOTION AND INSIGHT.”
People

“POIGNANT AND BITTERSWEET . . . A STORY OF SECRETS AND REVELATION, ESTRANGEMENT AND RECONCILIATION.”
Rocky Mountain News

Meet the Author

Amy Tan is the author of The Joy Luck Club, The Kitchen God's Wife, The Hundred Secret Senses, and two children's books, The Moon Lady and The Chinese Siamese Cat, which will be adapted as a PBS series for children. Tan was a co-producer and co-screenwriter of the film version of The Joy Luck Club, and her essays and stories have appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies. Her work has been translated into more than twenty-five languages.

Tan has a master's degree in linguistics from San Jose State University and worked as a language specialist to programs serving children with developmental disabilities.

Brief Biography

Hometown:
San Francisco, California and New York, New York
Date of Birth:
February 19, 1952
Place of Birth:
Oakland, California
Education:
B.A., San Jose State University, 1973; M.A., 1974

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The Bonesetter's Daughter 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 132 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Not her best book but overall pretty good. My one star is because the book is $18.99, and the paperback is $7.99. I have to pay an extra $11 to basically rent a book and never completely own it or be able to let someone else read my copy? That is ridiculous. If the paperback is $7.99, the ebook should be no more than that, and probably less.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It's a somewhat slow start (the first 2-3 chapters) but once it gets going it really swept me away. I thought it was even better than The Joy Luck Club, even though I liked that too.  This story is divided into three parts, the first and third told in present day (for the book, in the 90s) from American-born Ruth's perspective. The middle part is told from her mother's perspective as a child, teen, and then young adult in China. It portrays the complexities of familial relationships, particularly mother-daughter, and the trials of love, loss, etc. I was transported through the characters' many sorrows. Tan is able to make the characters come fully to life and the plot was both believable and surprising. I highly recommend this book.
Mavis1129 More than 1 year ago
I listened to this on audio and really liked it. The Joy Luck Club is more popular than this book and I don't know why. This one was way better. Overview: Ruth has always had a complex relationship with her mother. Through her childhood, she struggled to understand her mother's previous life in China and the marriage she had before her mother married her father. When her mother starts showing signs that she's losing her memory and even starts fabricating the truth, Ruth becomes really concerned. She looks to the pages her mother wrote in Chinese and had given her years ago. Ruth had set them aside meaning to translate them but never got around to it. Now, she realizes it is her mother's life story and the importance it plays now that her mother doesn't know what is truth anymore. What she finds out, once it's translated, is the heartbreaking tale of the family secret that haunts her mother and the family curse she believes to exist. After reading the translated pages, Ruth looks back to the past and is able to see her mother with new eyes. Growing up she was annoyed and embarrassed by her mother's strange ways but is now able to see that her mother was just tormented by the ghost of her own mother. What's really sad is when it says that Ruth shoves her mother's pages in a drawer after failing at translating it herself. Every year her mother would ask if she finished translating it until she eventually stopped asking, saying that Ruth was too busy for her. When you realize the importance of the papers, it's that much more heartbreaking to know how her mother must have felt. Later, in her mother's story, you see the same thing happening when she refuses to read papers given to her, resulting in tragic consequences.
Sesquipedalian_Amazon More than 1 year ago
In my opinion this is Amy Tan's best novel, even exceeding the very popular (and well written) "The Joy Luck Club." This novel is a beautiful aria to the relationship between a mother and daughter. It involves secrets, survival, sacrifice, and the deep pains and joys that can be caused by the greatest love. Allow yourself to be swept into this book; it will be a journey well worth taking, and one you are not likely to forget.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Beautiful, well-written novel. The story is very good and it kept my attention throughout the entire book from the beginning to the end. I was not familiar with Tan's works. This novel made me want to read more of Tan's stories. Amy Tan is a talented writer.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I have read all of Amy Tan's novels and loved them! True, each book has a certain redundancy, but each has a unique story. I love the way she uses words to describe emotions, thoughts, characters and places. I feel as though I am living the lives of her characters. 'The Bonesetter's Daughter' is a sad tale that will effect you emotionally. The story has inspired me to explore my parent's Indian heritage.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Pullls you into another cultiure. You never feel like an ooutsider.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Tan did a wonderful job showing how uncovering your family's truths and past can be a liberating and challenging experience.
cjtegCG More than 1 year ago
I am just learning about Amy Tan novels. I am now a fan. Not predictable, very interesting insider culture information, wonderful characters. I love her writing. I usually read non fiction but this is almost like non fiction with having so much of the China culture strongly drawn upon for the story. I am trying to read the novels in order of having been written. I am not sure this is important but somehow I think that it might be.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I have read several of her books and hope to read more. The descriptions of China and the culture is explained in such a way, you can almost see it. The story is one of a family in China, it's mysteries, it's imagined curses, it's past and future. I'll read it again.
DoranneLongPTMS More than 1 year ago
I thoroughly enjoy reading books by Amy Tan. She opens worlds that are unknown to me, including history and culture. She helps me to refrain from judgement as it is impossible for me to walk in another's shoes.
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BrianGriffith More than 1 year ago
Tan weaves a vast tale of family secrets revealed, in which people seem to hide all that is best in themselves. The secrecy impoverishes their relationships, till the truth comes to light and exposes their authentic greatness. All their suffering, struggling, even their soul-murdering resentment of each other, then comes together in a coherent pattern of beauty that's almost too good to be true. Maybe the ending is a bit too happy. But Tan is not one to deny the ultimate human dream. And the path to that ending is so real, so gritty, at times so heart-poundingly gripping, that all the happiness is richly deserved. --author of A Galaxy of Immortal Women: The Yin Side of Chinese Civilization
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Makes you look at your own relationship and insecuities
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