The Bonesetter's Daughter

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"In memories that rise like wisps of ghosts, LuLing Young searches for the name of her mother, the daughter of the Famous Bonesetter from the Mouth of the Mountain. Trying to hold on to the evaporating past, she begins to write all that she can remember of her life as a girl in China. Meanwhile, her daughter Ruth, a ghostwriter for authors of self-help books, is losing the ability to speak up for herself in front of the man she lives with and his two teenage daughters. None of her professional sound bites and pat homilies works for her personal
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The Bonesetter's Daughter

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"In memories that rise like wisps of ghosts, LuLing Young searches for the name of her mother, the daughter of the Famous Bonesetter from the Mouth of the Mountain. Trying to hold on to the evaporating past, she begins to write all that she can remember of her life as a girl in China. Meanwhile, her daughter Ruth, a ghostwriter for authors of self-help books, is losing the ability to speak up for herself in front of the man she lives with and his two teenage daughters. None of her professional sound bites and pat homilies works for her personal life: she knows only how to translate what others want to say." "Ruth starts suspecting that something is terribly wrong with her mother. As a child, Ruth had been constantly subjected to her mother's disturbing notions about curses and ghosts, and to her repeated threats that she would kill herself, and was even forced by her to try to communicate with ghosts. But now LuLing seems less argumentative, even happy, far from her usual disagreeable and dissatisfied self." "While tending to her ailing mother, Ruth discovers the pages LuLing wrote in Chinese, the story of her tumultuous and star-crossed life, and is transported to a backwoods village known as Immortal Heart. There she learns of secrets passed along by a mute nursemaid, Precious Auntie; of a cave where "dragon bones" are mined, some of which may prove to be the teeth of Peking Man; of the crumbling ravine known as the End of the World, where Precious Auntie's scattered bones lie, and of the curse that LuLing believes she released through betrayal. Like layers of sediment being removed, each page reveals secrets of a larger mystery: What became of Peking Man? What was the name of the Bonesetter's Daughter? And who was Precious Auntie, whose suicide changed the path of LuLing's life? Within LuLing's calligraphed pages awaits the truth about a mother's heart, what she cannot tell her daughter yet hopes she will never forget." "Set in contemporary San Francisco and
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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.

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.
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

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781597770767
  • Publisher: Phoenix Books, Incorporated
  • Publication date: 1/28/2006
  • Format: CD
  • Edition description: Unabridged
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 5.14 (h) x 1.51 (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 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.

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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

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."


Read More Show Less

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.

Read More Show Less

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 Auntie?

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 theadage 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 opinion, 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 LuLing?

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 130 )
Rating Distribution

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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 6 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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  • 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.

    2 out of 2 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.

    2 out of 2 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.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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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.

    1 out of 1 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 12 people found this review helpful.

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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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