The Bonesetter's Daughter

The Bonesetter's Daughter

4.4 131
by Amy Tan
     
 

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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.

Glamour
A rich, fascinating read.
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
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:
9780754024538
Publisher:
Gale Group
Publication date:
01/28/2001
Edition description:
Large Print
Pages:
567

Read an Excerpt



Chapter One


For the past eight years, always starting on August twelfth, Ruth Young lost her voice.

    The first time it happened was when she moved into Art's flat in San Francisco. For several days, Ruth could only hiss like an untended teakettle. She figured it was a virus, or perhaps allergies to a particular mold in the building.

    When she lost her voice again, it was on their first anniversary of living together, and Art joked that her laryngitis must be psychosomatic. Ruth wondered whether it was. When she was a child, she lost her voice after breaking her arm. Why was that? On their second anniversary, she and Art were stargazing in the Grand Tetons. According to a park pamphlet, "During the peak of the Perseids, around August 12th, hundreds of `shooting' or `falling' stars streak the sky every hour. They are actually fragments of meteors penetrating the earth's atmosphere, burning up in their descent." Against the velvet blackness, Ruth silently admired the light show with Art. She did not actually believe that her laryngitis was star-crossed, or that the meteor shower had anything to do with her inability to speak. Her mother, though, had often told Ruth throughout her childhood that shooting stars were really "melting ghost bodies" and it was bad luck to see them. If you did, that meant a ghost was trying to talk to you. To her mother, just about anything was a sign of ghosts: broken bowls, barking dogs, phone calls with only silence or heavy breathing at the other end.

    The following August, rather than just wait for muteness to strike, Ruth explained toher clients and friends that she was taking a planned weeklong retreat into verbal silence. "It's a yearly ritual," she said, "to sharpen my consciousness about words and their necessity." One of her book clients, a New Age psychotherapist, saw voluntary silence as a "wonderful process," and decided he would engage in the same so they could include their findings in a chapter on either dysfunctional family dynamics or stillness as therapy.

    From then on, Ruth's malady was elevated to an annual sanctioned event. She stopped talking two days before her voice faded of its own accord. She politely declined Art's offer that they both try speaking in sign language. She made her voiceless state a decision, a matter of will, and not a disease or a mystery. In fact, she came to enjoy her respite from talk, for a whole week she did not need to console clients, remind Art about social schedules, warn his daughters to be careful, or feel guilty for not calling her mother.

    This was the ninth year. Ruth, Art, and the girls had driven the two hundred miles to Lake Tahoe for the Days of No Talk, as they called them. Ruth had envisioned the four of them holding hands and walking down to the Truckee River to watch the nightly meteor showers in quiet awe. But the mosquitoes were working overtime, and Dory whimpered that she saw a bat, to which Fia teased, "Who cares about rabies when the forest is full of ax murderers?" After they fled back to the cabin, the girls said they were bored. "There's no cable television?" they complained. So Art drove them to Tahoe City and rented videos, mainly horror flicks. He and the girls slept through most of them, and though Ruth hated the movies, she could not stop watching. She dreamed of deranged babysitters and oozing aliens.

    On Sunday, when they returned home to San Francisco, cranky and sweaty, they discovered they had no hot water. The tank had leaked, and the heating element apparently had fried to death. They were forced to make do with kettle-warmed baths; Art didn't want to be gouged by emergency plumbing rates. Without a voice, Ruth couldn't argue, and she was glad. To argue would mean she was offering to foot the bill, something she had done so often over their years of living together that it had become expected of her. But because she did not offer, she felt petty, then irked that Ark said nothing further about the matter. At bedtime he nuzzled her neck and bumped gently into her backside. When she tensed, he said, "Suit yourself," and rolled over, and this left her feeling rebuffed. She wanted to explain what was wrong—but she realized she did not know. There was nothing specific beyond her bad mood. Soon Art's sonorous breathing rumbled, out of sync with her frustration, and she lay wide-eyed in the dark.

    It was now nearly midnight, and in another few hours, Ruth would be able to talk. She stood in the Cubbyhole, a former pantry that served as her home office. She stepped onto a footstool and pushed open a tiny window. There it was, a sliver of a million-dollar view: the red towers of the Golden Gate Bridge that bifurcated the waters, marking bay from ocean. The air was moist and antiseptically cold against her face. She scanned the sky, but it was too light and misty to see any "ghost bodies" burning up. Foghorns started to blare. And after another minute, Ruth saw the billows, like an ethereal down comforter covering the ocean and edging toward the bridge. Her mother used to tell her that the fog was really the steam from fighting dragons, one water, the other fire. "Water and fire, come together make steam," LuLing would say in the strangely British-accented English she had acquired in Hong Kong. "You know this. Just like teapot. You touch, burn your finger off."

    The fog was sweeping over the ramparts of the bridge, devouring the headlamps of cars. Nine out of ten drivers were drunk at this hour—Ruth had read that somewhere. Or maybe she had written that for a client. She stepped down, but left the window open.

    The foghorns continued to wail. They sounded like tubas in a Shostakovich opera, comedically tragic. But was tragedy ever funny? Or was it only the audience who laughed knowingly as the victims walked into trapdoors and trick mirrors?

    Still wide awake, Ruth turned to her desk. Just then she felt a tug of worry, something she was not supposed to forget. Did it have to do with money, a client, or a promise she had made to the girls? She set to straightening her desk, aligning her research books, sorting faxes and drafts, color-coding them according to client and book. Tomorrow she had to return to routine and deadlines, and a clean desk gave her the sense of a fresh start, an uncluttered mind. Everything had its place. If an item was of questionable priority or value, she dumped it in the bottom right-hand drawer of her desk. But now the drawer was full with unanswered letters, abandoned drafts, sheets of jotted-down ideas that might be usable in the future. She pulled out a clipped stack of paper from the bottom of the drawer, guessing she could toss out whatever had lain there the longest by neglect.

    They were pages written in Chinese, her mother's writing. LuLing had given them to her five or six years before. "Just some old things about my family," she had said, with the kind of awkward nonchalance that meant the pages were important. "My story, begin little-gift time. I write for myself, but maybe you read, then you see how I grow up, come to this country." Ruth had heard bits of her mother's life over the years, but she was touched by her shyness in asking Ruth to read what she had obviously labored over. The pages contained precise vertical rows, without cross-outs, leaving Ruth to surmise that her mother had copied over her earlier attempts.

    Ruth had tried to decipher the pages. Her mother had once drilled Chinese calligraphy into her reluctant brain, and she still recognized some of the characters: "thing, "I" "truth." But unraveling the rest required her to match LuLing's squiggly radicals to uniform ones in a Chinese-English dictionary. "These are the things I know are true," the first sentence read. That had taken Ruth an hour to translate. She set a goal to decipher a sentence a day. And in keeping with her plan, she translated another sentence the next evening: "My name is LuLing Liu Young." That was easy, a mere five minutes. Then came the names of LuLing's husbands, one of whom was Ruth's father. Husbands? Ruth was startled to read that there had been another. And what did her mother mean by "our secrets gone with them?" Ruth wanted to know right away, but she could not ask her mother. She knew from experience what happened whenever she asked her mother to render Chinese characters into English. First LuLing scolded her for not studying Chinese hard enough when she was little. And then, to untangle each character, her mother took side routes to her past, going into excruciating detail over the infinite meanings of Chinese words: "Secret not just mean cannot say. Can be hurt-you kinda secret, or curse-you kind, maybe do you damage forever, never can change after that...." And then came rambling about who told the secret, without saying what the secret itself was, followed by more rambling about how the person had died horribly, why this had happened, how it could have been avoided, if only such-and-such had not occurred a thousand years before. If Ruth showed impatience in listening to any of this, LuLing became outraged, before sputtering an oath that none of this mattered because soon she too would die anyway, by accident, because of bad-luck wishes, or on purpose. And then the silent treatment began, a punishment that lasted for days or weeks, until Ruth broke down first and said she was sorry.

    So Ruth did not ask her mother. She decided instead to set aside several days when she could concentrate on the translation. She told her mother this, and LuLing warned, "Don't wait too long." After that, whenever her mother asked whether she had finished her story, Ruth answered, "I was just about to, but something came up with a client." Other crises also intervened, having to do with Art, the girls, or the house, as did vacation.

    "Too busy for mother," LuLing complained. "Never too busy go see movie, go away, go see friend."

    The past year, her mother had stopped asking, and Ruth wondered, Did she give up? Couldn't be. She must have forgotten. By then the pages had settled to the bottom of the desk drawer.

    Now that they had resurfaced, Ruth felt pangs of guilt. Perhaps she should hire someone fluent in Chinese. Art might know of someone—a linguistics student, a retired professor old enough to be versed in the traditional characters and not just the simplified ones. As soon as she had time, she would ask. She placed the pages at the top of the heap, then closed the drawing, feeling less guilty already.


When she woke in the morning, Art was up, doing his yoga stretches in the next room. "Hello," she said to herself. "Is anyone there?" Her voice was back, though squeaky from disuse.

    As she brushed her teeth in the bathroom, she could hear Dory screeching: "I want to watch that. Put it back! It's my TV too." Fia hooted: "That show's for babies, and that's what you are, wnnh-wnnh-wnnh."

    Since Art's divorce, the girls had been dividing their time between their mom and stepdad's home in Sausalito and Art's Edwardian flat on Vallejo Street. Every other week, the four of them—Art, Ruth, Sofia, and Dory—found themselves crammed into five miniature rooms, one of them barely big enough to squeeze in a bunkbed. There was only one bathroom, which Ruth hated for its antiquated inconvenience. The clawfooted iron tub was as soothing as a sarcophagus, and the pedestal sink with its separate spigots dispensed water that was either scalding hot or icy cold. As Ruth reached for the dental floss, she knocked over other items on the windowsill: potions for wrinkles, remedies for pimples, nose-hair clippers, and a plastic mug jammed with nine toothbrushes whose ownership and vintage were always in question. While she was picking up the mess, desperate pounding rattled the door.

    "You'll have to wait," she called in a husky voice. The pounding continued. She looked at the bathroom schedule for August, which was posted on both sides of the door. There it said, clear as could be, whose turn it was at each quarter-hour. She had assigned herself to be last, and because everyone else ran late, she suffered the cumulative consequences. Below the schedule, the girls had added rules and amendments, and a list of violations and fines for infractions concerning the use of the sink, toilet, and shower, as well as a proclamation on what constituted the right to privacy versus a TRUE EMERGENCY (underlined three times).

    The pounding came again. "Ru-uuth! I said it's the phone!" Dory opened the door a crack and shoved in a cordless handset. Who was calling at seven-twenty in the morning? Her mother, no doubt. LuLing seemed to have a crisis whenever Ruth had not called in several days.

    "Ruthie, is your voice back? Can you talk?" It was Wendy, her best friend. They spoke nearly every day. She heard Wendy blow her nose. Was she actually crying?

    "What happened?" Ruth whispered. Don't tell me, don't tell me, she mouthed in rhythm to her racing heart. Wendy was about to tell her she had cancer, Ruth was sure of it. Last night's uneasy feeling started to trickle through her veins.

    "I'm still in shock," Wendy went on. "I'm about to ... Hold on. I just got another call."

    It must not be cancer, Ruth thought. Maybe she was mugged, or thieves had broken into the house, and now the police were calling to take a report. Whatever it was, it must have been serious, otherwise Wendy would not be crying. What should she say to her? Ruth crooked the phone in her neck and dragged her fingers through her closecropped hair. She noticed that some of the mirror's silver had flaked off. Or were those white roots in her hair? She would soon turn forty-six. When had the baby fat in her face started to recede? To think she used to resent having the face and skin of a perpetual teenager. Now she had creases pulling down the corners of her mouth. They made her look displeased, like her mother. Ruth brightened her mouth with lipstick. Of course, she wasn't like her mother in other respects, thank God. Her mother was permanently unhappy with everything and everybody. LuLing had immersed her in a climate of unsolvable despair throughout Ruth's childhood. That was why Ruth hated it whenever she and Art argued. She tried hard not to get angry. But sometimes she reached a breaking point and erupted, only to wonder later how she had lost control.

    Wendy came back on the line. "You still there? Sorry. We're casting victims for that earthquake movie, and a million people are calling all at once. Wendy ran her own agency that hunted extras as San Francisco local color—cops with handlebar mustaches, six-foot-six drag queens, socialites who were unknowing caricatures of themselves. "On top of everything, I feel like shit," Wendy said, and stopped to sneeze and blow her nose. So she wasn't crying, Ruth realized, before the phone clicked twice. "Damn," Wendy said. "Hang on. Let me get rid of this call."

    Ruth disliked being put on hold. What was so dire that Wendy had to tell her first thing in the morning? Had Wendy's husband had an affair? Joe? Not good old Joe. What, then?

    Art ducked his head through the doorway and tapped his watch. Seven twenty-five, he mouthed. Ruth was about to tell him it was Wendy with an emergency, but he was already striding down the narrow hallway. "Dory! Fia! Let's hustle! Ruth is taking you to the ice rink in five minutes. Get a move on." The girls squealed, and Ruth felt like a horse at the starting gate.

    "I'll be there in a sec!" she called out. "And girls, if you didn't eat breakfast, I want you to drink milk, a full glass, so you won't fall over dead from hypoglycemic shock."

    "Don't say `dead.'" Dory griped. "I hate it when you say that."

    "My God. What's going on there?" Wendy was back on the line.

    "The usual start of the week," Ruth said. "Chaos is the penance for leisure."

    "Yeah, who said that?"

    "I did. So anyway, you were saying? ..."

    "Promise me first you won't tell anyone," Wendy sneezed again.

    "Of course."

    "Not even Art, and especially not Miss Giddy."

    "Gideon? Gee, I don't know if I can promise about him."

    "So last night," Wendy began, "my mother called in a state of euphoria." As Wendy went on, Ruth dashed to the bedroom to finish getting dressed. When she was not in a hurry, she enjoyed listening to her friend's ramblings. Wendy was a divining rod for strange disturbances in the earth's atmosphere. She was witness to bizarre sights: three homeless albinos living in Golden Gate Park, a BMW suddenly swallowed up by an ancient septic tank in Woodside, a loose buffalo strolling down Taraval Street. She was the maven of parties that led people to make scenes, start affairs, and commit other self-renewing scandals. Ruth believed Wendy made her life more sparkly, but today was not a good time for sparkles.

    "Ruth!" Art said in a warning tone. "The girls are going to be late."

    "I'm really sorry, Wendy. I have to take the girls to ice-skating school—"

    Wendy interrupted. "Mommy married her personal trainer! That's what she called to tell me. He's thirty-eight, she's sixty-four. Can you believe it?"

    "Oh ... Wow." Ruth was stunned. She pictured Mrs. Scott with a groom in a bow tie and gym shorts, the two of them reciting vows on a treadmill. Was Wendy upset? She wanted to say the right thing. What, though? About five years before, her own mother had had a boyfriend of sorts, but he had been eighty. Ruth had hoped T.C. would marry LuLing and keep her occupied. Instead T.C. had died of a heart attack.

    "Listen, Wendy, I know this is important, so can I call you back after I drop off the girls?"

    Once she had hung up, Ruth reminded herself of the tasks she needed to do today. Ten things, and she tapped first her thumb. One, take the girls to skating school. Two, pick up Art's suits at the dry cleaner's. Three, buy groceries for dinner. Four, pick up the girls from the rink and drop them off at their friend's house on Jackson Street. Five and Six, phone calls to that arrogant client, Ted, then Agapi Aguos, whom she actually liked. Seven, finish the outline for a chapter of Agapi Agnos's book. Eight, call her agent, Gideon, whom Wendy disliked. And Nine—what the hell was Nine? She knew what Ten was, the last task of the day. She had to call Miriam, Art's ex-wife, to ask if she would let them have the girls the weekend of the Full Moon Festival dinner, the annual reunion of the Youngs, which she was hosting this year.

    So what was Nine? She always organized her day by the number of digits on her hands. Each day was either a five or a ten. She wasn't rigid about it: add-ons were accommodated on the toes of her feet, room for ten unexpected tasks. Nine, Nine ... She could make calling Wendy number One and bump everything back. But she knew that call should be a toe, an extra, an Eleven. What was Nine? Nine was usually something important, a significant number, what her mother termed the number of fullness, a number that also stood for Do not forget, or risk losing all. Did Nine have something to do with her mother? There was always something to worry about with her mother. That was not anything she had to remember in particular. It was a state of mind.

    LuLing was the one who had taught her to count fingers as a memory device. With this method, LuLing never forgot a thing, especially lies, betrayals, and all the bad deeds Ruth had done since she was born. Ruth could still picture her mother counting in the Chinese style, pointing first to her baby finger and bending each finger down toward her palm, a motion that Ruth took to mean that all other possibilities and escape routes were closed. Ruth kept her own fingers open and splayed, American style. What was Nine? She put on a pair of sturdy sandals.

    Art appeared at the doorway. "Sweetie? Don't forget to call the plumber about the hot-water tank."

    The plumber was not going to be number Nine, Ruth told herself, absolutely not. "Sorry, honey, but could you call? I've got a pretty full day."

    "I have meetings, and three appeals coming up." Art worked as a linguistics consultant, this year on cases involving deaf prisoners who had been arrested and tried without access to interpreters.

    It's your house, Ruth was tempted to say. But she forced herself to sound reasonable, unassailable, like Art. "Can't you call from your office in between meetings?"

    "Then I have to phone you and figure out when you'll be here for the plumber."

    "I don't know exactly when I'll be home. And you know those guys. They say they're coming at one, they show up at five. Just because I work at home doesn't mean I don't have a real job. I've got a really crazy day. For one thing, I have to ..." And she started to list her tasks.

    Art slumped his shoulders and sighed. "Why do you have to make everything so difficult? I just thought if it were possible, if you had time—Aw, forget it." He turned away.

    "Okay, okay, I'll take care of it. But if you get out of your meetings early, can you come home?"

    "Sure thing." Art gave her a kiss on the forehead. "Hey, thanks. I wouldn't have asked if I weren't completely swamped." He kissed her again. "Love you."

(Continues...)

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. 131 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.
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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