The Bonesetter's Daughter

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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

“TAN AT HER BEST . . ....

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The Bonesetter's Daughter

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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

“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

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  • Amy Tan's The Bonesetter's Daughter-1
    Amy Tan's The Bonesetter's Daughter-1  

Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
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.

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


Rocky Mountain News

A rich, fascinating read.
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
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.
From The Critics
Tan is still tackling the mother/ daughter themes that have carried her two previous bestsellers, The Joy Luck Club and The Kitchen God's Wife. In this book, San Francisco native Ruth Young is a ghostwriter of self-help books trying to come to grips with her mother's recent diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease. Although the two have always had a contentious relationship, Ruth is determined to learn more about her mother and her family's Chinese heritage. She hires a translator to decipher two packets of her mother's papers and begins to unravel a family story that is layered with superstition, Chinese history and tales of sacrifice, suffering and deception. The use of two narrators brings texture to the production: Actress Joan Chen reads the part of Ruth's mother, LuLing, whose story unfolds in early twentieth-century China, while Tan reads the modern half of the story. For the most part, Tan is quite a strong narrator, and Chen, with her lovely, slightly husky voice, is a joy to hear. Her delivery is somewhat slower than Tan's, reminding us that her part of the story originated a world away.
—Rochelle O'Gorman

(Excerpted 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.
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.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780804114981
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 1/29/2002
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 416
  • Sales rank: 119,920
  • Lexile: 800L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 4.19 (w) x 6.87 (h) x 1.12 (d)

Meet the Author

Amy Tan

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 has been adapted as Sagwa, a PBS series for children. Tan was also the 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, who has a master’s degree in linguistics from San Jose University, has worked as a language specialist to programs serving children with developmental disabilities. She lives with her husband in San Francisco and New York.

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    1. Also Known As:
      En-Mai Tan
    2. Hometown:
      San Francisco, California and New York, New York
    1. Date of Birth:
      February 19, 1952
    2. Place of Birth:
      Oakland, California
    1. Education:
      B.A., San Jose State University, 1973; M.A., 1974

Read an Excerpt


These are the things I know are true:

My name is LuLing Liu Young. The names of my husbands were
Pan Kai Jing and Edwin Young, both of them dead and our secrets gone with them. My daughter is Ruth Luyi Young. She was born in a
Water Dragon Year and I in a Fire Dragon Year. So we are the same but for opposite reasons.

I know all this, yet there is one name I cannot remember. It is there in the oldest layer of my memory, and I cannot dig it out. A
hundred times I have gone over that morning when Precious Auntie wrote it down. I was only six then, but very smart. I could count. I
could read. I had a memory for everything, and here is my memory of that winter morning.

I was sleepy, still lying on the brick k'ang bed I shared with Precious
Auntie. The flue to our little room was furthest from the stove in the common room, and the bricks beneath me had long turned cold. I felt my shoulder being shaken. When I opened my eyes, Precious
Auntie began to write on a scrap of paper, then showed me what she had written. "I can't see," I complained. "It's too dark."

She huffed, set the paper on the low cupboard, and motioned that
I should get up. She lighted the teapot brazier, and tied a scarf over her nose and mouth when it started to smoke. She poured face-washing water into the teapot's chamber, and when it was cooked, she started our day. She scrubbed my face and ears. She parted my hair and combed my bangs. She wet down any strands that stuck out like spider legs. Then she gathered the long part of my hair into two bundles and braided them. She banded the top with red ribbon, the bottom with green. I wagged my head so that my braids swung like the happy ears of palace dogs. And Precious Auntie sniffed the air as if she, too, were a dog wondering, What's that good smell? That sniff was how she said my nickname, Doggie. That was how she talked.

She had no voice, just gasps and wheezes, the snorts of a ragged wind. She told me things with grimaces and groans, dancing eyebrows and darting eyes. She wrote about the world on my carry-around chalkboard. She also made pictures with her blackened hands. Hand-talk, face-talk, and chalk-talk were the languages I
grew up with, soundless and strong.

As she wound her hair tight against her skull, I played with her box of treasures. I took out a pretty comb, ivory with a rooster carved at each end. Precious Auntie was born a Rooster. "You wear this," I demanded, holding it up. "Pretty." I was still young enough to believe that beauty came from things, and I wanted Mother to favor her more. But Precious Auntie shook her head. She pulled off her scarf and pointed to her face and bunched her brows. What use do I have for prettiness? she was saying.

Her bangs fell to her eyebrows like mine. The rest of her hair was bound into a knot and stabbed together with a silver prong. She had a sweet-peach forehead, wide-set eyes, full cheeks tapering to a small plump nose. That was the top of her face. Then there was the bottom.

She wiggled her blackened fingertips like hungry flames. See what the fire did.

I didn't think she was ugly, not in the way others in our family did. "Ai-ya, seeing her, even a demon would leap out of his skin," I
once heard Mother remark. When I was small, I liked to trace my fingers around Precious Auntie 's mouth. It was a puzzle. Half was bumpy, half was smooth and melted closed. The inside of her right cheek was stiff as leather, the left was moist and soft. Where the gums had burned, the teeth had fallen out. And her tongue was like a parched root. She could not taste the pleasures of life: salty and bitter,
sour and sharp, spicy, sweet, and fat.

No one else understood Precious Auntie 's kind of talk, so I had to say aloud what she meant. Not everything, though, not our secret stories. She often told me about her father, the Famous Bonesetter from the Mouth of the Mountain, about the cave where they found the dragon bones, how the bones were divine and could cure any pain, except a grieving heart. "Tell me again," I said that morning,
wishing for a story about how she burned her face and became my nursemaid.

I was a fire-eater, she said with her hands and eyes. Hundreds of people came to see me in the market square. Into the burning pot of my mouth I dropped raw pork, added chilis and bean paste, stirred this up,
then offered the morsels to people to taste. If they said, "Delicious!" I
opened my mouth as a purse to catch their copper coins. One day, however,
I ate the fire, and the fire came back, and it ate me. After that, I decided not to be a cook-pot anymore, so I became your nursemaid instead.

I laughed and clapped my hands, liking this made-up story best.
The day before, she told me she had stared at an unlucky star falling out of the sky and then it dropped into her open mouth and burned her face. The day before that, she said she had eaten what she thought was a spicy Hunan dish only to find that it was the coals used for cooking.

No more stories, Precious Auntie now told me, her hands talking fast. It's almost time for breakfast, and we must pray while we're still hungry. She retrieved the scrap of paper from the cupboard, folded it in half, and tucked it into the lining of her shoe. We put on our padded winter clothes and walked into the cold corridor. The air smelled of coal fires in other wings of the compound. I saw Old
Cook pumping his arm to turn the crank over the well. I heard a tenant yelling at her lazy daughter-in-law. I passed the room that my sister, GaoLing, shared with Mother, the two of them still asleep. We hurried to the south-facing small room, to our ancestral hall. At the threshold, Precious Auntie gave me a warning look. Act humble. Take off your shoes. In my stockings, I stepped onto cold gray tiles. Instantly,
my feet were stabbed with an iciness that ran up my legs,
through my body, and dripped out my nose. I began to shake.

The wall facing me was lined with overlapping scrolls of couplets,
gifts to our family from scholars who had used our ink over the last two hundred years. I had learned to read one, a poem-painting:
"Fish shadows dart downstream," meaning our ink was dark, beautiful,
and smooth-flowing. On the long altar table were two statues,
the God of Longevity with his white-waterfall beard, and the Goddess of Mercy, her face smooth, free of worry. Her black eyes looked into mine. Only she listened to the woes and wishes of women, Precious
Auntie said. Perched around the statues were spirit tablets of the Liu ancestors, their wooden faces carved with their names. Not all my ancestors were there, Precious Auntie told me, just the ones my family considered most important. The in-between ones and those belonging to women were stuck in trunks or forgotten.

Precious Auntie lighted several joss sticks. She blew on them until they began to smolder. Soon more smoke rose—a jumble of our breath, our offerings, and hazy clouds that I thought were ghosts who would try to yank me down to wander with them in the World of Yin. Precious Auntie once told me that a body grows cold when it is dead. And since I was chilled to the bone that morning, I was afraid.

"I'm cold," I whimpered, and tears leaked out.

Precious Auntie sat on a stool and drew me to her lap. Stop that,
Doggie, she gently scolded, or the tears will freeze into icicles and poke out your eyes. She kneaded my feet fast, as if they were dumpling dough. Better? How about now, better?

After I stopped crying, Precious Auntie lighted more joss sticks.
She went back to the threshold and picked up one of her shoes. I can still see it—the dusty blue cloth, the black piping, the tiny embroidery of an extra leaf where she had repaired the hole. I thought she was going to burn her shoe as a send-away gift to the dead. Instead,
from the shoe 's lining, she took out the scrap of paper with the writing she had showed me earlier. She nodded toward me and said with her hands: My family name, the name of all the bonesetters. She put the paper name in front of my face again and said, Never forget this name, then placed it carefully on the altar. We bowed and rose,
bowed and rose. Each time my head bobbed up, I looked at that name. And the name was—

Why can't I see it now? I've pushed a hundred family names through my mouth, and none comes back with the belch of memory.
Was the name uncommon? Did I lose it because I kept it a secret too long? Maybe I lost it the same way I lost all my favorite things—the jacket GaoLing gave me when I left for the orphan school, the dress my second husband said made me look like a movie star, the first baby dress that Luyi outgrew. Each time I loved something with a special ache, I put it in my trunk of best things. I hid those things for so long I almost forgot I had them.

This morning I remembered the trunk. I went to put away the birthday present that Luyi gave me. Gray pearls from Hawaii, beautiful beyond belief. When I opened the lid, out rose a cloud of moths, a stream of silverfish. Inside I found a web of knitted holes, one after the other. The embroidered flowers, the bright colors, now gone. Almost all that mattered in my life has disappeared, and the worst is losing Precious Auntie 's name.

Precious Auntie, what is our name? I always meant to claim it as my own. Come help me remember. I'm not a little girl anymore. I'm not afraid of ghosts. Are you still mad at me? Don't you recognize me? I am LuLing, your daughter.

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Interviews & Essays

An Interview with Amy Tan

Barnes& What inspired you to create the intriguing nursemaid, Precious Auntie, in The Bonesetter's Daughter?

Amy Tan: It is so hard to say where the characters in the most important part of our books originate. All the reasons seem superficial. You have an idea, an image that seems intriguing. I heard a story once about a monk who came and pretended to put ghosts into jars.

My mother had been scarred around her face from an accident when she was young, and there was a certain quality of speechlessness in all the women in our family that manifested itself in different ways. My grandmother was not able to speak about her despair until she killed herself, and my own mother wasn't able to tell the terrible stories from her own life until much later. And there is a certain quality of speechlessness that all women have, even very modern women today in a country such as the United States, women who feel that they have lost their voice.

I think that the most emotional part of what defined Precious Auntie as a character was my ongoing desire to find out who my grandmother was and the legacy she left us.

B& How much of your grandmother's story did you know when you began?

AT: I didn't even know her real name until my mother died. My half sisters and I were writing my mother's obituary while she lay dying, taking her last breath. I found out that I didn't even know my mother's true name. It struck me that there is so much that I still don't know.

My mother was born in China with one name, then her father died, and my grandmother was taken into another family. She was raped and became a concubine against her will. She killed herself, after the baby that resulted was born. I heard bits and pieces later in life. I knew none of this when I was growing up.

These were the tragedies that informed my mother's life. She would tell me these horror stories. "Don't let a man take advantage of you. Then you'll have a baby, you'll kill the baby and your life would be over." I didn't even know how reproduction happened. My mother had gone through such an abusive first marriage, and then knowing what had happened to her mother, she was so afraid that the same thing would befall me. I had no context for why she'd made these warnings.

B& Why did Precious Auntie try to commit suicide by drinking molten ink?

AT: The way it happened in the story was that she was looking for anything to kill herself with, and she happens to be there in the ink studio. What feels right to me is that ink is what you use to write words down. Ink is what lasts. Ink does not come off. The ink contains all potential words that could have been said. Her granddaughter later becomes a ghostwriter. Though she doesn't use ink, the metaphor is still there -- the words coming out, the words able to be said, and what Ruth does with the words is speak for other people, never herself.

B& When Ruth was pretending to channel Precious Auntie by writing in a tray of sand, what was she doing?

AT: She was trying to speak for her mother, translating for her mother, translating for other people. In effect, Precious Auntie was trying to say what a mother should say to her daughter. Though she was the mother, for all these years Precious Auntie couldn't say she was the mother. Precious Auntie's voicelessness was more than not being able to say what was the most important thing.

B& There are a lot of themes on identity and loss of identity in your book, such as LuLing being thrown into an orphanage when her real mother dies. What inspired you to write about this?

AT: In our family, we've had issues on the loss of identity, which is a very American concept, and where the American side of the story comes in. My mother left behind a life in China. She left behind three daughters -- she was a fairly well-to-do woman -- and a whole past, a language. She created a new identity here. That identity of who she was in China pervaded everything she did, and I didn't know what that was. My grandmother's identity exists only in a memory of a memory: my memory of my mother's memory of who my grandmother was.

The whole idea of existence -- the loss of one's memory of that person, which happens when one loses their memory, as my mother did -- was all tied up in a mix of emotions for me. It is my form of ancestor worship. Ancestor worship is so important in China, not in the sense that you make them into deities, but that they continue to exist as long as you remember them. It is very important to remember them, to do rituals. This is my ritual -- writing about my ancestors.

My grandmother is on the cover of the book. I wrote with her in mind. I suggested to Putnam that they use her photograph and they agreed. I was thrilled!

B& Your books include spirits, like the ghost of Precious Auntie destroying the ink shop. How did spirits permeate your childhood and form you as a writer?

AT: I grew up with several kinds of spirits in my imagination. My father was a Baptist minister, and he believed in the Holy Spirit. My mother was fairly quiet about her beliefs, which were an eclectic mix that are typical of a lot of Chinese; a mix of animism, ancestor worship and Buddhism, and even Catholicism, because she went to a Catholic school. My mother used to talk about ghosts, from the time I was a little girl. I would say that I saw a ghost in the bathroom. My mother would get really excited and say, "Where, where is she?" She was sure that it was somebody that she knew. If something happened that was disturbing to her, she was sure that it was related to a spirit. When my father died, all the ghosts really came out of the closet. She talked very openly. She made me use a ouija board to talk to them. I would get advice from them about my father and brother, and what investments we should play on the stock market.

B& An important subplot in your book involves the dragon bones, the mystical fossils that turn out to be the bones of the Peking Man, the first human skeleton found in China. How did you decide to incorporate this into your book?

AT: I am trying to remember when the image of the bones became so strong for me. I thought of it like the excavation of my own memories of my mother, and finding these pieces at one point. I remember coming across an article about how the bones of the Peking Man had disappeared. My God, all these people who did this great effort to discover the bones, then they found it, knew its value, then lost it again. This is so much like what happens when we finally get to know our own past through our parents, then we lose them. That was the reason why I decided to set the book in the Mouth of the Mountain, near where Peking Man was discovered. But I also had the idea of a bonesetter and started hearing about dragon bones, which is where the early fossils were found, and all of it came together. It was almost too much emphasis, but in Chinese culture, nothing is subtle. Symbolism is a very big part of Chinese culture. Oh, and I am a dragon, and my mother was a dragon! We were both born in the Year of the Dragon.

B& Did the bonesetters use the fossils as medicine?

AT: The dragon bones were used for medicinal purposes. They were crushed and used as medicine.

B& You write about the generational conflicts between immigrant mothers and their Americanized daughters so well. It seems like the mothers are constantly criticizing their daughters, though the love is so profound. Where does the criticism come from?

AT: Criticism I grew up with! Everyone I know who had a Chinese mother who came from the mainland grew up with that criticism as well. It seems natural to me. I do not know if it is Shanghai-nese [where Tan's mother is from], the Chinese, or all mothers, but the criticism always means, "I think you deserve better." What the child hears is, "You never think that I am good enough." It's interesting to me, that loss of translation. Again, we are unable to say what we mean.

I, for example, am still very uncomfortable with compliments. I don't know what to do with them. On the other hand, I don't think I need compliments to make me feel that I know what my worth is. I think it can be a good thing, as well. I think my mother wanted me not to rely on other people's opinions for me to know what my opinion of myself was.

B& What is your writing office like?

AT: I usually write in a very womblike place. I have two offices, one in New York and one in San Francisco. The one in New York is a former closet. It has very low ceilings. It is painted a rust-colored red. It has antique Chinese furniture in it.

Here in San Francisco, my office is more modern, with mahogany built-in bookshelves. The room is a bit larger. I have a window, but the curtains are always closed. The room is painted dark green. It's cluttered with tons of stuff, knickknacks and mail I have not looked at.

B& You don't enjoy the views?

AT: I cannot deal with those distractions. I had a beautiful office with views of the Golden Gate Bridge and the Bay, but my assistant, Ellen, has that office now.

B& What is your next project, if that is not a rude question?

AT: It's not a rude question, but it is a question that I can't really answer. For me, I've found that if I talk about what I think a book is about, it is almost like deconstructing a book. I have enough time after I've written a book, but before I've finished, I almost feel like I am going to let the air out of the balloon when it has not even risen yet. I can only talk about it in vague terms. I know it is going to be very different. I don't know if it is going to delight my publisher or horrify them. I am very excited. I started it an hour after I finished this last book in August, after this moment of speechlessness.

B& Do you have a week of speechlessness every year, like Ruth in The Bonesetter's Daughter?

AT: I used to. I had a speechlessness that came around my birthday. It was related to a trauma that I'd had. One of my best friends, my husband's and my roommate, was murdered that day in a brutal way. I had to identify the body and go through the room, seeing the blood. You could smell what had happened in there. I went through the routine of identifying what was missing, but I really couldn't talk about the other things. So every year for ten years, I became mute on that day.

Amy Tan spoke from her office in San Francisco with interviewer Dylan Foley, a freelance writer living in Brooklyn, New York.

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Reading Group Guide

1. Bones constitute an important motif in The Bonesetter's Daughter.
What is the significance of the book's title? How does breaking a bone change Ruth's life and her relationship with her mother? What importance do bones hold for LuLing and Precious

2. Each year, Ruth makes a conscious decision not to speak for one week. Why does she elect to go silent? In which ways does this self-imposed muteness mirror the challenges faced by both her mother and by Precious Auntie? How does Ruth find her voice as the novel goes on?

3. From childhood onward, Ruth is locked in a constant struggle with her mother. In which ways does her behavior echo LuLing's rebellion against her own mother? How do these conflicts have violent consequences, both physical and emotional?

4. To frame the novel, Tan uses the device of a story within a story.
How is this effective in bringing past and present together?

5. How does LuLing come to life in her own words, and how is that vantage point different from Ruth's point of view? How is the
LuLing that springs to life in her manuscript different from the figure Ruth grapples with on a regular basis?

6. LuLing begins her story, "These are the things I must not forget."
Why is she so adamant about remembering—and honoring—
what has come before? In contrast, what is Precious Auntie's attitude toward the past? In which ways does she recast prior events,
thus concealing the truth from LuLing? How does Ruth grapple with what she uncovers about the history of her family, and what it means for her future?

7. Ruth is shocked to learn that her aunt, GaoLing, is not her mother's real sister. How does the relationship between the two women defy the adage that blood is thicker than water?

8. How does the dynamic between LuLing and GaoLing evolve as the book unfolds? What emotions does LuLing feel most strongly toward GaoLing, and vice versa? Why?

9. Although GaoLing speaks English fluently, by contrast, LuLing never learns to communicate effectively in the language, instead relying on Ruth to be her mouthpiece. How is the spoken word depicted in this novel? Is it more or less important than the written word? How does LuLing communicate in other ways—for example, artistically?

10. How does the concept of destiny shape the lives of both Precious
Auntie and LuLing? How does each woman fight against the strictures of fate? In the modern world, does destiny hold as much weight? Why or why not?

11. Both Precious Auntie and LuLing lose love in tragic ways. How is romantic love depicted in The Bonesetter's Daughter? How does
Ruth's concept of love differ from that of her grandmother's and mother's? Does LuLing's conception of love evolve over time?

12. LuLing is introduced to Western ideas and religion while living and working in an American-run orphanage. How does she reconcile these different ideologies with the beliefs she holds? Does her belief in her family's curse fade or blossom within the confines of a different societal framework?

13. How does LuLing forge a new life for herself in America? In which ways does she remain constrained by the past, and in which ways does she triumph over it?

14. Which of GaoLing's characteristics enable her to adjust to
America with more ease than her sister? Which make it more difficult?

15. "Orchids look delicate but thrive on neglect." In which way does this idle musing by Ruth apply to the other relationships in the novel, including her own with Art and his children?

16. Ruth has lived with the specter of Precious Auntie her entire life.
How does her mother's obsession with Precious Auntie affect
Ruth? Do you view Precious Auntie's presence next to Ruth in the last scene of the book as a figurative or a literal one? Why?

17. Based on her manuscript alone, the translator of LuLing's story becomes fascinated with her. What about her story, in your opin-
ion, is so alluring and transcendent? How does her fading mind open her to new experiences?

18. As LuLing loses her memory, how does her story become more clear to Ruth? How does Tan explore the transience of memory in The Bonesetter's Daughter?

19. Ruth works as a successful ghostwriter. How is this profession significant, both literally and figuratively, in her communication with her mother and with the world around her? How has her professional life opened Ruth to the world around her, and how has it shut her off?

20. What significance do names and their nuances have in The Bonesetter's
Daughter? Why is it so important that Ruth discover her family's true name? When Ruth discovers what her own name means, how does that realization change her relationship with

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 130 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 130 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 13, 2012

    Not her best book but overall pretty good. My one star is becaus

    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.

    13 out of 17 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 3, 2011


    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.

    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.

    5 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 19, 2013

    It's a somewhat slow start (the first 2-3 chapters) but once it

    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.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 25, 2008

    more from this reviewer


    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.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 27, 2013

    really nicely written-draws you in

    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.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 6, 2013

    Aricka johnbrow

    I LOve my mommy and daddy and zach is

    They are the Bast mommy and daddy Bast .

    1 out of 11 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 20, 2013

    Highly Recommended

    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.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 6, 2005

    Beautiful writing style!

    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.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 7, 2015

    Excellent Amy Tan

    Pullls you into another cultiure. You never feel like an ooutsider.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 10, 2014

    Heart warming

    Tan did a wonderful job showing how uncovering your family's truths and past can be a liberating and challenging experience.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 31, 2013

    This book was about a young youth named Ruth. Raised by her craz

    This book was about a young youth named Ruth. Raised by her crazy mother Lui Lang, she is lost. Her mother’s mind is slowing down and Ruth is going through all the changes a young girl goes through. Ruth has written a diary full of memories that she had later forgotten. These things she knows are true. The place she was born dies, and everyone else dies with it. Ruth had always had a complicated relationship with her mother. As her mother gotten older, she started fading the truth of her mother’s marriage and how she used to be. Later, Ruth’s untie left her pages of Chinese history. Ruth had plans on reading over it but never got to it. After translating the truth, Ruth gives up on caring. Her mother constantly asks have you read those papers?

    Sometimes Ruth would get so annoyed her mother eventually stopped asking. Ruth read the papers, but she didn’t want her mother to know. Ruth grew up embarrassed by her mother’s ways. Even her friends Lace and Wendy think she’s insane. Ruth is now stuck with the truth that her precious untie left her. She now feels sorrow for her mother, for the bad marriage, everything. For so long, Ruth has never understood her mother’s old life, but now she has. Ruth being born in America and her mother being born in china, Ruth never wanted to do things the way of her culture. But now, Ruth honors her mother, her culture, her life, and her future. This is the story of Ruth, the girl who will never forget where she came from.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 26, 2012

    Tan weaves a vast tale of family secrets revealed, in which peop

    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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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 17, 2012

    Very touching

    Makes you look at your own relationship and insecuities

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 9, 2011



    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 16, 2010

    Can't Wait Till Amy Tan Writes Another Book!

    Excellent! I was disappointed to see it end. It kept getting better and better the further I got into the book. The exploration of the mother-daughter relationship between the American-born daughter and China-born mother has been done before by Amy Tan. But what a treat to see it done again. The book begins with the perspective of Ruth, a San Francisco ghostwriter of self-help books, and then moves on to the perspective of her mother, LuLing, through her memoirs, of her life in China. LuLing, fearing that she is losing her memory, pushes for Ruth to have her memories, set down in calligraphy, translated into English. It's in this way that LuLing begins to communicate to Ruth the truths of her own life, bringing into focus the layers of reality underlying the conflicts between LuLing and her mother. Now Ruth comes to know about LuLing's own troubled relationship with her mother, Precious Auntie, and the truths about her growing up years in China.

    Ruth is able to eventually use her new knowledge to connect even more powerfully with her mother, and to question for herself, in her own life, what she wants in terms of connection with others.

    It's an emotional, beautifully written book, and I 'm not sure that I now like this book better than her first book, The Joy Luck Club, because it's a better book, or because now I'm older and have a daughter of my own.

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  • Posted October 4, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Amy Tan's Finest Work

    I fell in love with Amy (anyone remember the song, "Once in Love with Amy"?) after reading THE JOY LUCK CLUB, and my affection deepened after meeting her at Oakley and Barbara Hall's incomparable parties. Her humanity, gift with words, and gorgeous imagery have kept me entranced, but BONESETTER'S DAUGHTER has a depth and resonance that I can't define. The best way I can express it is to put it in a league with THE STORY OF EDGAR SAWTELLE. The two novels have nothing in common except that ineffable ability to touch the spirit. These are the books that astonish, that you carry with you forever.

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  • Posted September 19, 2009

    The Bonesetter's Daughter

    Very touching story

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  • Posted February 8, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    Not her best work

    The cover raised a red flag even before I read the book; with the name printed in bigger fonts than the title, the book resembled a cheesy romance novel of a lesser quality than Tan's works such as the Joy Luck Club. The concept of the book is ambitious - it tells the stories of two very different lives of a Chinese mother and daughter, who struggle to understand themselves by understanding each other. Unfortunately, one story dwarfs the other.<BR/><BR/>The first story is by a second generation Chinese immigrant who recollects her childhood to her present day. Her worries consist of her mother suffering from her dementia and drama with her acquaintances, which include her husband. Aside from her mother who stops nagging at the moment her daughter starts homework, the story is as bland as that of an Average Joe.<BR/><BR/>The second story, the one of her mother, is much, much better and intense with secrets and emotions. Without giving too many details away, parts of her story consist of tragically not recognizing her own mother before she dies and running away from Japanese soldiers during World War II. The sheer content of the book is so much wider in scope compared to that of the her daughter's, which looks superficial and shallow. While the book is not all that poorly written, it leaves much to be desired at the end.

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  • Posted November 28, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    Amy Tan does it again!

    Amy Tan shows her sensitivity and vulnerability in this novel about mothers and daughters. Wonderful!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 8, 2008

    Hard to Forget

    The Bonesetter¿s Daughter, by Amy Tan, tells the tale of generations of a Chinese family living in San Francisco, California. Ruth Young is the only daughter of LuLing Young, a wise Chinese woman. The story takes place during one year when Ruth is in her forties. Ruth is a `book doctor¿ she helps others write what they cannot seem to put into words. She lives with her husband and his two daughters, who she has trouble seeing eye to eye with at times. As LuLing starts having memory lapses, Ruth starts taking care of her. It is during this year that Ruth finds out the secrets of her mother¿s childhood. As Ruth reads her mother¿s Chinese diary, she uncovers childhood secrets that her mother was never able to reveal. LuLing was raised by Precious Auntie, who was mute. As Precious Auntie raises LuLing, she tells LuLing secrets of the Peking Man, whose bones are discovered in the village where LuLing and Precious Auntie live. Precious Auntie turns to suicide and in doing so, changes LuLing¿s life forever. The Bonesetter¿s Daughter is a multi-layered story, not only telling the tale of Ruth¿s complicated relationships with her family, but LuLing¿s troubling childhood. As she learns these secrets, Ruth starts to understand why her mother raised her like she did, filling Ruth¿s mind with thoughts of ghosts and curses. This book takes you on a journey you will never forget.

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