The Joy Luck Club

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Overview

In 1949 four Chinese women-drawn together by the shadow of their past-begin meeting in San Francisco to play mah jong, invest in stocks, eat dim sum, and "say" stories. They call their gathering the Joy Luck Club. Nearly forty years later, one of the members has died, and her daughter has come to take her place, only to learn of her mother's lifelong wish-and the tragic way in which it has come true. The revelation of this secret unleashes an urgent need among the women to reach back and remember... In this ...
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Overview

In 1949 four Chinese women-drawn together by the shadow of their past-begin meeting in San Francisco to play mah jong, invest in stocks, eat dim sum, and "say" stories. They call their gathering the Joy Luck Club. Nearly forty years later, one of the members has died, and her daughter has come to take her place, only to learn of her mother's lifelong wish-and the tragic way in which it has come true. The revelation of this secret unleashes an urgent need among the women to reach back and remember... In this extraordinary first work of fiction, Amy Tan writes about what is lost-over the years, between generations, among friends-and what is saved.

In 1949, four Chinese women begin meeting in San Francisco for fun. Nearly 40 years later, their daughters continue to meet as the Joy Luck Club. Their stories ultimately display the double happiness that can be found in being both Chinese and American. First serials to Ladies' Home Journal, Atlantic Monthly, and San Francisco Focus. Now available.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
``Intensely poetic, startlingly imaginative and moving, this remarkable book will speak to many women, mothers and grown daughters, about the persistent tensions and powerful bonds between generations and cultures,'' praised PW . Author tour. June
Library Journal
What a wonderful book! The ``joy luck club'' is a mah jong/storytelling support group formed by four Chinese women in San Francisco in 1949. Years later, when member Suyuan Woo dies, her daughter June Jing-mei is asked to take her place at the mah jong table. With chapters alternating between the mothers and the daughters of the group, we hear stories of the old times and the new; as parents struggle to adjust to America, their American children must struggle with the confusion of having immigrant parents. Reminiscent of Maxine Hong Kingston's The Woman Warrior in its vivid depiction of Chinese-American women, this novel is full of complicated, endearingly human characters and first-rate story telling in the oral tradition. It should be a hit in any fiction collection.-- Ann H. Fisher, Radford P.L., Va.
From the Publisher
"Powerful as myth." —The Washington Post Book World

"Beautifully written...a jewel of a book." —The New York Times Book Review

"Powerful...full of magic...you won't be doing anything of importance until you have finished this book." —Los Angeles Times

"Wonderful...a significant lesson in what storytelling has to do with memory and inheritance." —San Francisco Chronicle

From Barnes & Noble
An instant bestseller, this startlingly original debut novel tells the emotionally honest and intensely moving story of several generations of Chinese-American women and their families, illuminating the special mysteries of the bonds between mothers & daughters.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780804106306
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 10/1/1994
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 352
  • Lexile: 930L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 4.18 (w) x 6.87 (h) x 1.01 (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, The Bonesetter's Daughter, The Opposite of Fate, Saving Fish from Drowning, 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

Table of Contents

Feathers from a Thousand Li Away
The Joy Luck Club 19
Scar 42
The Red Candle 49
The Moon Lady 67
The Twenty-Six Malignant Gates
Rules of the Game 89
The Voice from the Wall 102
Half and Half 116
Two Kinds 132
American Translation
Rice Husband 149
Four Directions 166
Without Wood 185
Best Quality 197
Queen Mother of the Western Skies
Magpies 215
Waiting Between the Trees 242
Double Face 253
A Pair of Tickets 267
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Reading Group Guide

INTRODUCTION

Through the stories of The Joy Luck Club, we peer into the secret-laden lives of eight Chinese immigrant mothers and their American-born daughters. The daughters reject their mothers’ seemingly constant criticism of everything they choose, from husbands to hairdos. They view their mothers’ warnings as irrelevant, and their advice as intrusive. The daughters do not know what has inspired their warnings and advice: the hardships their mothers suffered in China before coming to America. Thus, as the mothers see it, their daughters are flailing in their modern American circumstances, unable to use what is “in their bones,” the family’s inheritance of pain that led to their determined strength for survival, which their mothers try to bequeath them. The mothers, meanwhile, watch with heartache as their daughters’ marriages fail, as they expect less and less and so accept less and less. They recall moments in their past when they were faced with similar circumstances but defied what they believed was bad fate in order to find their true worth.

The book begins in the voice of June (Jing-mei) Woo, a woman in her thirties, who lives in San Francisco. Her mother, Suyuan, has died unexpectedly, and now her mother’s longtime friends in the Joy Luck Club have invited June to take her mother’s place at the mahjong table, where stories spanning seven decades are recalled above the din of swirling tiles. To these aunties, June confesses what every mother fears: that mother and daughter never understood each other. To the daughters, their mothers’ hopes translated into impossible expectations. Their warnings were backward superstitions. Their love was not embracing but suffocating. In interwoven voices, mothers and daughters privately recall pivotal moments from their past, as girls and as young women, when they failed their mothers in public and private ways, and thus built walls to protect themselves in the future.

The individual stories are grouped into four sections, each tied together by emotional themes. The first section concerns sacrifice and loss, what is meant by giving of oneself and giving up. As recalled by June, Suyuan tells of giving up her life to save her twin babies during wartime, only to learn she has survived but her babies have been lost. An-mei recalls the pain of watching her mother sacrifice her own flesh to save the life of her own mother, who has already disowned her. Lindo recounts her submission to an arranged marriage but not to a fate handed to her by someone else. And Ying-Ying remembers a time when she could not stand still in another person’s shadow, as required of her, and by giving into her desire for the wrong things, she later gave up her spirit.

In the next two sections, the daughters recall moments of uncertainty, anger, or fear in childhood. They are also stories of resistance and rebellion and the rejection of what they see as false beliefs their mothers have tried to instill. Waverly, a chess prodigy, thinks she has grown more clever than the mother who gave her “invisible strength.” Lena fears being drawn into her mother’s madness and consoles herself by imagining others having a life worse than hers. Rose, whose mother cannot let go of the memory of her son who drowned, now believes that by hoping for less, you aren’t as vulnerable to loss. And June believes it was her mother’s impossibly high expectations that make her feel that even today, she is a failure. The reverberations of these childhood lessons reveal themselves when the four grown daughters face marital conflicts, career setbacks, and the despair of never having found what mattered to them. They must now choose for the future yet do not know what to do.

In the final section, the mothers’ and daughters’ stories intertwine and reveal how hope and love can transform sadness, anger, despair, and fears from the past. The Joy Luck Club is about the power of storytelling between generations: to know your family’s past is to know yourself, and with that knowledge, you are free to shape your own destiny. Through storytelling, the fragile bonds between mother and daughter are pulled and tightened, as each feels what the other means by hope.

The Joy Luck Club is a portrait of four fictional families set against the backdrop of China and America, yet the discoveries of family legacy and individual identity, of clashes and reconciliation, are universal to us all.

ABOUT AMY TAN

Amy Tan is the author of seven books, including the New York Times bestsellers The Joy Luck Club , The Kitchen God's Wife , and The Opposite of Fate , which was also a New York Times Notable Book. With millions of copies in print, Tan's books continue to draw new readers and are often adopted in schools and municipal reading programs across the United States. Tan was also a coproducer and coscreenwriter of the film version of The Joy Luck Club , and her essays and stories have appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies. She is the literary editor for WEST , the weekly magazine produced by the Los Angeles Times. Her work has been translated into more than thirty languages. She lives with her husband in New York and San Francisco.

A CONVERSATION WITH AMY TAN
Q. The Joy Luck Club was your first book. Were you surprised at how successful it became, staying on the New York Times bestseller list for more than half a year? How did your life change after the publication of this book?

I wrote this book with no expectations that it would be read by very many people. I had been told that the typical first book by an unknown writer might sell five thousand copies—if you were lucky. I heard that it might last on the bookstore shelves six weeks—if you were lucky. With these reasonable expectations, I wrote The Joy Luck Club without the self-consciousness I would later feel when the book landed on the bestseller list. No one had predicted the book’s trajectory, and I was stunned, as if I had won the lottery without having ever bought a ticket.

This may sound strange, but the book’s unexpected success scared me. Instead of being jubilant, I was upset that my former life had been usurped by success that was out of control. I didn’t know how to prepare for further change, good or bad. I kept telling myself week in and week out, that this would wind down the following week. Instead it escalated, and I was soon inundated with requests for interviews and appearances, which created even more chaos and anxiety. In part, I did not want to trust it or embrace it, thinking it was illusory and dangerous. When I tried to write a second book, I was unnerved by the expectations. I had constant back pain from the perceived weight of public pressure.

Seven months passed before I accepted my new life and the joy that I could write fiction the rest of my life. But I also wrote down the focus of my life and my writing, what mattered most, because I knew I would need the reminder when another cycle of chaos might ensue. It is easy to lose sight of what is valuable and meaningful in the blinding lights of commercial success. I always ask myself what is important now and what will remain so, despite other people’s opinions, the ups and downs of the marketplace, or good or bad reviews.

Q. In many reviews and articles written about The Joy Luck Club, it is referred to as a novel, but you have said that you consider it to be a collection of short stories. It’s true that each vignette featuring your eight main characters is self-contained and could easily stand on its own, but the overall effect of the stories when they are read in succession is a narrative arc reminiscent of a novel. How did you approach writing these stories? How did you decide how to arrange them?

My process was confusion. I wrote a short story to attend my first writers conference in 1985. It covered in thirteen pages the life of a character from age six to age thirty-six. Writer Molly Giles critiqued my work and said it had no consistent voice and a dozen story threads, but no true narrator or story. She suggested I start over and choose one story thread and one voice. But what is a voice and what is a story, I wondered. Which came first. Molly advised I write and see. So I wrote a story about a chess champion and her mother. Much to my surprise, I could see a voice and a story emerge. The voice was not dialogue but that inner voice of a person with secret thoughts. And the story had less to do with plot as it did with a transformation of perspective by the end. There were more surprises. Based on Molly’s recommendation, a little magazine, with a circulation of three hundred, asked to see my story. They took it and paid me $35. I was a success. (That editor, by the way, has since become editor-in-chief of a well-known publishing company.)

I went on to write a second story, this one in the voice of an older woman. In between, an agent saw the first published story and asked to represent me. I had nothing to sell, so she badgered me every week to write another story. I did, and then she asked me to write up a description of what a whole book of these kinds of stories might include so that she might find interested publishers. I thought she was unrealistically optimistic, so I spent only a few hours conjuring story ideas that came off the top of my head, each described in about three sentences. Because the other three stories were unrelated, I wove them into a premise: They would be stories concerning five families, and of older and younger voices, all of whom belonged to a community. The community, I decided, would be a social group, the Joy Luck Club. The five families were reduced to four when I ran out of story ideas that afternoon. I did not intentionally limit the stories to those of mothers and daughters. That naturally came to be, and I only recognized it in retrospect. When the book was published, the short story collection was called a novel by reviewers.

So there you have it, the writer’s process on how a story became a novel.

Q. All of the stories in this book involve relationships between mothers and daughters. How much did your relationship with your own mother influence each story? Are there two characters in particular who mirror your own experience as the American-born daughter of a Chinese immigrant?

My relationship with my mother has much to do with each story. Shortly after I started writing fiction, my mother suffered what I was told was a heart attack. In those moments when I thought she might have died, I promised that if she lived I would go to China with her, meet her other daughters from her first marriage, and beg her to tell me the stories I’ve avoided hearing all my life. That was the reason I went to China, why I started with a story about a daughter who has just lost her mother, and who later travels for the first time to China and meets her half-sisters who were left behind.

The stories are not a mirror of either me or my mother. They are more like refractions, different angles of some part of us, a bending of what really happened. My mother was alive when I wrote the story, but what would I have felt if she had died? I began a story that concerned exactly that: “My father has asked me to take my mother’s place at the mah jong table.” My mother had wanted me to be a prodigy and tried to cultivate me to become one at the piano. I wrote about a girl who is a chess prodigy, whose mother has cultivated a talent in her called “invisible strength.” I wanted to rebel against my mother’s ideas and choose what I wanted to do. Waverly rebels against her mother, thinking she has become smarter and no longer needs to take her advice. My mother left behind three daughters in China and eventually was reunited with them. I met them when I went to China with my mother in 1987. In the story version, my mother believed her twin baby daughters died during the war, and after the mother died, June learns the other daughters are alive and goes to meet them. What is common to both the real and fictional is a connection to the past and seeing what is shared despite circumstances.

The subterfuge of fiction is necessary for me as a writer to find truths. I know that sounds contradictory. To me, writing fiction is about cloaking myself in a subterfuge, making myself the hidden observer. But what often happens is my realizing some of observations have to do with what is hidden in my family and in me.

There is another strong influence of my mother in the way I write fiction. When she told stories of her past, she would act as if the memory was the same as the moment she was in. She would act out the scene as if it were unfolding in front of her, an invisible scene with ghosts, with her relaying to me what was occurring with an immediacy of details and emotions.

During one storytelling session, my mother’s eyes turned to one side of my living room, and she grew rigid with a challenging posture. “That bad man is walking in,” she said and practically spit the words out. “He is shouting that everyone should go down on their knees and knock their head on the floor to show respect.” She pantomimed people bowing quickly hands over their head. She went on: “He is pointing a gun and everyone is falling down but me. Go ahead and kill me, I tell him, and he is putting the gun in my face, right here, and everyone is screaming, and suddenly he is laughing and he is putting the gun down. He is telling everybody it is only a joke. He is happy he fooled them into being scared. Only a joke! I know it is not a joke.”

When I write, I try to see the scene as if it is unfolding before me. That’s how my mother influenced my stories.

Q. The Joy Luck Club was made into a feature film in 1993, and you wrote the screenplay for it. What was that experience like? What are your thoughts on the resulting film? Would you consider adapting any of your other works of fiction for movies?

In spite of being aware and wary of all the bad things that can happen to writers who dream of turning their novels into films, I had a surprisingly good experience, and it resulted in a movie I love. In the beginning, I turned down several offers to option the book, because I feared that someone would make a film that was appalling in its depictions of Chinese people, for example, that people would wear coolie hats and have curved dagger fingernails, even though they were not in the rice fields or selling opium to Charlie Chan. But then I met two people who seemed to understand the heart of this book in ways I had never considered. They were the director Wayne Wang and the screenwriter Ron Bass. Together we spent three days talking about the heart of the story, and Ron broke it all down into minute-by-minute “beats” or scenes. He also created a clear structure into which all the stories would fit: the farewell party for June, in which all the mothers and daughters are gathered, to wish her well on her trip to China to meet her late mother’s long-lost daughters.

With this outline, I took the first stab at writing the dialogue. I’d send a few pages to Ron by fax, and he would make drastic notes and changes, then fax them back to me. I would rewrite and move on. It was an intense kind of teamwork, no time wasted, a creative high, and ultimately the best class on screenwriting I could have ever taken, private lessons with the master, earn while you learn.

The three of us made a pact we would not sell the screenplay or rights to the book until we found a studio that would give us total creative control, meaning we controlled the screenplay, the choice of location and actors, the filming, the editing, all the way to the final cut. In the movie industry, that’s nearly impossible to get. But I believed all along that the process of writing this screenplay with two great professionals was the reason for doing it. If it was never made it to film, that was fine. It would have still been time and effort well spent and without regrets. When we did find a studio willing to give us total creative control, that was a bonus. Strangely enough, the studio insisted I also be a coproducer. To this day, I have no idea what a producer does, except go to meetings and say yes to some things and no to others.

I was offered other opportunities to make films. But all of those projects would have also required that I be involved as both writer and producer. That would then require me to give up writing fiction for the two- or three-year period it takes to create a movie. I did become a creative consultant in turning my children’s book Sagwa into an animated television series for PBS. But that was a time-limited involvement of just a few months. Once again, I linked up with good people—and by that, I mean people both talented and with ethics, integrity, and a genuine heart. The series turned out better than I ever could have imagined. I get twinges in my heart when little kids shyly tell me they watch Sagwa. It reminds me of myself as a kid watching cartoons and wondering who made them.

Q. The book is framed by Jing-mei Woo’s story. Her mother, Suyuan, created the Joy Luck Club, and following her recent death Jing-mei must take her place at the gathering. Though this club serves as the title of the book and the unifying theme for all of the characters, there are not many meetings of the club recalled throughout the stories—many of the stories take place long before the club was conceived. What made you decide to use the Joy Luck Club as the backbone of the book but not focus on it in the action? How did you come up with the concept of “Joy Luck”?

The Joy Luck Club is the framework, the basis for the community, and a way to relate what would otherwise be disconnected stories and disparate characters with indivdual pasts. I was more interested in the individuals than the whole, the structure. And once the structure had been established, there was no need to keep returning to it.

The stories are also connected by the kind of hope common to immigrants, that the new country will bring them joy and luck, those two things linked to become joy luck, and this was in contrast to bad luck, the kind that had plagued many of them.

The club does have some basis in my life. My father and mother belonged to the real Joy Luck Club, and in fact, my father named it. I grew up with the daughters of other families, and we would have slumber parties and listen to our parents playing mahjong and talking loudly through the night. At midnight, they ate dim sum, and sometimes we were allowed to have a late snack with them. Having grown up with the real Joy Luck Club, I thought the name was unremarkable. And when asked by my agent to come up with a title for a proposed collection for which only three stories had been written, I chose Wind and Waterafter the notions of feng shui, the arrangement of elements that determine harmony with nature. This was when few people knew what feng shui meant, and my agent thought Wind and Water was both esoteric and precious. She suggested I change it to the title of the first story, The Joy Luck Club. I didn’t particularly like the title, but I assumed no one would buy the proposal, so I let her call it what she wanted. Lucky for me.

Q. All four of the women in the Joy Luck Club attend the First Chinese Baptist Church in San Francisco when they move there, though not all of them were raised Christian. The church serves as a meeting place for many immigrants, a place where they can take English classes and where their children are given Christmas presents. China is not a traditionally Christian nation, but when the characters go to the church, the issue of religion does not become problematic. What are your thoughts on the many Chinese immigrants to the United States who have become Christians? And what of those who have not? Do you feel that there is any tension between the spiritual beliefs that are important in Chinese culture as opposed to those dominant in Western Christian doctrine?

Christianity has a long history in China and found a lot of compatibility with the poor. And it also had a role in rebellions by the poor, in particular during the Taiping Rebellion and Boxer Uprising. It is an evangelistic religion that seeks to convert the ignorant and nonbelievers. This is unlike the goals of other religions, such as Judaism or Buddhism.

On the Tan side of my family, my great-grandfather, who did not come from a wealthy family, was able to receive an education at a missionary school, where he learned to read, write, and speak English. Being a Christian did not prevent people from keeping other Chinese traditions, such as praying to ancestors. My great-grandfather’s conversion may have been sincere, but in his later years, he also took on a young concubine, who bore him a son when he was eighty-five years old. The latter was related to me as proof of my great-grandfather’s vitality, but nothing was said about the young concubine, or the circumstances that led her to become the possession of an old man. Yet she was my great-grandmother, and the son she bore was my grandfather. He also was educated in a Christian school. My grandfather continued the tradition and passed along both his linguistic skills and his religious fervor to his fourteen children, the oldest of which was my father. They also helped maintain the Tan family temple, the building where the family prayed to our ancestors—or perhaps they now prayed for them. With help from Baptist missionaries, my father was able to come to the States, where he enrolled in the Berkeley Baptist Divinity School and became minister of the First Chinese Baptist Church of Fresno. Because of financial need, he eventually returned to his original profession as an electrical engineer but continued to devote his spare time to the ministry.

My mother was not raised as a Christian, but she grew up in Shanghai, where it was not unusual for people to have contact with Westerners and Christian beliefs. Both Shanghai and Beijing had been divided into foreign concessions, and my mother lived in the French Concession in a yang fang yuan, a foreign garden house, meaning Western in style. She was raised without any religion in particular, but had the motley beliefs common to many of the well-to-do of her generation, that is, rituals for showing respect to ancestors, a fear of unhappy ghosts (for some reason ghosts were never happy), and a belief in reincarnation, which could explain a lot of things, like curses, fate, and acceptance of your bad circumstances. At times my mother believed I was a reincarnation of someone she had wronged, and I had come back as karmic revenge to make her life miserable. Today, my father’s side of the family continues their evangelism in Taiwan and China. My mother’s side of the family adheres to no religion, Chinese or Western. But they enjoy any excuse for a feast and they adopt all kinds of rituals, which include sending me Christmas cards, which, when opened, play an obnoxious electronic version of “Silent Night.”

Q. The Joy Luck Club was first published in 1989. How has your perspective on the book changed over the intervening seventeen years? Which characters or stories have remained most vivid in your mind? Is there anything that you would change about the book if you could?

The book exists for me in its own time capsule. It contains the circumstances that led me to write it. In many ways, it is an intimate diary of my ordinary thoughts and strange obsessions, all of which were absorbed into the writing of the book. So there is nothing I would change. I feel that way about each book. They all exist for their particular reasons. I can’t change the reasons so I would not change the book.

What’s most vivid to me about the book are the images that directly relate to something highly emotional in our family: my grandmother cutting a bit of flesh from her arm to make her dying mother a soul, the rape and death of my grandmother. They are the images in the stories “Scar” and “Magpies.” Within that is the extreme pain that has passed through our family. I think that’s in part why I am a writer. Sometimes I think my grandmother, who had no voice of her own, paved the way with a lot of lucky coincidences so that I would become a writer and give voice to what had happened to her.

Q. All four of the daughters in this book have ended up unlucky in love in one way or another—Jing-mei is still single at forty, Waverly is about to get married for the second time, and both Rose and Lena are on the verge of divorce. Most of them have also married Caucasian American men, and there is a good deal of tension between their parents (especially the mothers) and their spouses. What made you decide to have all of the girls marry white men? What were your intentions when you created those unions? Were you influenced by any couples you have known or relationships you have personally experienced?

My intentions in writing stories are always personal. Before I was published I never felt the self-consciousness that results from an unknown public reading my stories. It did not occur to me that the details of the story might raise questions about what was being represented as a larger sociological phenomenon about mixed marriages. So what I wrote was only based on the familiar. My husband is not Chinese. Among my American-born Chinese friends and relatives, all of them married a non-Chinese. People might say this is proof that we American-born Chinese believed white people were more desirable. I think the choice of white men or white women as spouses was related more to opportunity, the opportunity to meet a lot of Caucasians and the few opportunities to meet other Chinese people. The only Chinese boys I knew when I was growing up were my brothers, my cousins, and the boys I babysat while their parents played mahjong with mine. By the time I was in junior high school, we lived in the suburbs where there were no Asians. Even in college, there were only two Asians, and one became a good friend. He and I used to joke that we were supposed to marry one another because we were Asian. I met my future husband in my freshman year, so that was the end of my dating career. My mother once confided in me that she had expected I would marry a waiguo ren, a “foreigner” which is how she referred to anyone not Chinese. She knew I would not be able to meet too many Chinese boys, and she never voiced disappointment that Lou was not Chinese. The mothers in the book are not critical of their daughters’ choice in men purely on the basis of race. As with my mother, the concerns had more to do with whether the man truly respected and cared for the daughter. My mother, for example, wanted Lou to prove his love for me by standing up to his parents when they suggested we break things off. She told him to “invest” in our marriage—to buy me twenty-four-carat gold, so that if I became unhappy, I could put the gold on a scale, sell it, then start a new life. She told him to buy me a piano so that I could put to work those fifteen years of piano lessons, and also to make Lou think twice about ever leaving me; that would also mean leaving behind a very expensive piano. Her methods of ensuring a long-lasting marriage must work, because Lou and I are still together after thirty-six years.

Like the mothers in the stories, my mother had a suspicious view of all men that was drawn from experience. Her mother had been raped, forced to become a concubine, and she later killed herself to escape. My mother was married off to a bad man, who lied, gambled, cheated, and flaunted his infidelities by bringing other women home. He also raped little girls. My mother warned me when I was child not to kiss men, because it would lead to the disgrace of “used-goods syndrome,” which included shame, disease, unwanted babies, family disgrace, insanity, suicide, and finally, unhappy ghosthood. With that prospect tied to a kiss, I’m lucky I married at all!

Q. What kind of book would result if Jing-mei, Rose, Lena, and Waverly were telling their stories to their daughters? What are your thoughts on the next generation of Chinese American women coming of age? How important is it for them to have their mothers’ and grandmothers’ life stories repeated to them?

I have not thought about the first question. But here’s a stab at it: The daughters of the Joy Luck Club would do everything possible to raise their daughters without criticism; without expectations that they’d become prodigies, doctors, or good wives; and without promoting the notion that romance would lead to shame and suicide. So they’d choose to tell stories about people who plant trees, about girls who are athletes and astronauts or social workers, jobs that are based on their own passions, and about people of different colors living in harmony and saving the earth. But in this new generation of stories, the daughters-now-mothers would realize they have not given their kids what is necessary, especially when their daughters fall into crisis, for example, when they nearly overdose on drugs, or when they drop out of school and fall into depression, or when they are diagnosed with a sexually transmitted disease, or when they are attacked by a sexual predator, or when they, in an instance of road rage, hit a bicyclist and are charged with a crime. The mothers will then tell their daughters stories about their family—from great-grandmothers to grandmothers to themselves, and the stories will be about those times when we are lost, when we have lost who matters and what matters. The stories will be about the family and what it has already faced generations ago, how it has survived many times, no matter what the circumstances given or chosen for us. And the reasons they have survived have to do with a family inheritance of love and hope, and the realization that love and hope are really the same thing.

Q. The Joy Luck Club is widely used as part of high school reading curricula, falling under the category of “multicultural literature.” You have said on a number of a occasions that you’re uncomfortable with that label. Could you talk a little bit about that, and about your thoughts on an American literary canon that is becoming more “multicultural” in this new century?

That is a very complex question and it deserves a longer discussion among many people. Whatever remarks I make here, I hope people will continue with their own thoughts.

Some of my past remarks about my discomfort with labels in literature had to do with what was happening fifteen to twenty years ago. There was American Literature, which consisted mostly of books by dead white males, and there was Women’s Literature, Black Literature, and Multicultural Literature, which was also called “required reading.” The labels were there because those books had not been included in the regular canon of literature.

Here’s an example of how things have changed. In the past, The Joy Luck Club was included on required reading lists because the stories were different from the mainstream and thus would give young readers exposure to another culture. Those were in the days when communities were not that diverse. The irony today is that educators select my book so that young readers can identify with the story. The student population is multicultural and the same books once selected to understand others are now chosen to understand ourselves.

What is in the canon of American literature now includes many different voices, reflecting that America includes many different voices. But I still feel it’s important to examine how we treat any book as subject matter rather than story. There still exists a tendency to evaluate stories with characters from a different culture as being about culture. So when we hear the words “required reading,” we should be asking ourselves, “What are we requiring literature to do?”

Let me hasten to add that I am honored to be on required reading lists. My biggest fear these days is that some student will see the name of my book on the list and groan with disgust. But I hope that students will also sense after reading it that I was not just writing about Chinese people or just mothers or daughters. I was simply writing a story. I’d like the student to know that I felt something unexpected when I was writing the story and it means something only to me. Maybe the student will feel something unexpected when reading it. There is so much that a story can do that is not required. It just happens.

Q. Before you wrote The Joy Luck Club, you were working as a linguistics teacher. If you were not a writer today, what other career could you picture yourself in?

I can also imagine myself being a composer. When I played the piano as a child, I saw stories in music. Sonatas contained long stories. Preludes contained short stories. I dream on occasion that I am able to write sonatas effortlessly, with full orchestration and motifs that weave in and out of the sections of the orchestra. I actually do some composing when I am awake as well. When I sing in the shower, I create brilliant songs, most of them about my dogs, who are staring at me as I shampoo my hair. The songs are somehow not as brilliant when the water is turned off.

I would also like to be an artist. That was my secret childhood dream from the age of seven on. I liked to do pencil renderings. I drew pictures of my cat in different poses, and the pictures had both a precise and soft quality to them. They captured a moment of what my cat was like lying in the sun or watching a fly or lying in my lap. I definitely would not be a watercolorist. To be a good one, you have to commit brush to paper with a sense of confidence. You can’t be tentative. You can’t muddy it up with constant dabbing. You can’t erase. I once took a class in clay sculpture and, apart from an aversion to getting my hands dirty and sticky, I enjoyed the process enormously. My writing has the qualities of sculpture. I start with a lump and shape it, taking away chunks, slapping on bits, smoothing it out, looking at it from all kinds of angles, then mashing it back to a lump to start over again. Some people hate revision. I enjoy it.

Q. The Joy Luck Club is divided into four sections, each preceded by a brief tale that in some way reflects each stage of the eight women’s lives. These stories read like small myths—in fact there are many mythological elements in this book. What was your inspiration for the four tales? What about the book as a whole—what kind of allegorical meaning did you intend for it to have?

I am ashamed to admit that the mythlike tales were the result of structural retrofitting, an afterthought posed by my editor Faith Sale at Putnam. After I turned in my manuscript, I met with Faith a couple of months later. We went to an old-time New York restaurant with dark wood-paneled booths. We spread the stories across the table, and she told me we needed to reorder them in a way that felt right and made sense. We tried doing it chronologically, then by family relationship, and later by alternating voices of mothers and daughters. Eventually, we settled on an order that was simply intuitive—what felt right. What emerged was an emotional arc spanning the sixteen stories. Those stories naturally fell into four groups of four stories. I sensed that each group of four had its own emotional arc. Some were more about loss, some were more about hope, and so forth. Faith asked that I create short vignettes that would delineate the section and suggest the connectedness of the stories within. I went looking for sources of inspiration and found them in a Chinese almanac and a book of four-character sayings. Within those sources were elements that suggested fairy tales: a magic feather, the warnings of the twenty-four malignant gates, the harmony found in feng shui, and the wisdom of a baby passing along her naïve wisdom to the queen mother of the Western sky.

With each, I added some personal aspects to the story. My uncle in Beijing, for example, once gave me a gift and used the expression “a swan feather from a thousand li away” to mean it was a little bit of nothing but it had a lot of heart, so it was worth a lot. This reminded me of my mother’s belief that the more work something required, the more it was worth. Struggles were good. So I struggled to write those four vignettes and finished my book, hoping my editor would see its worth.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

  • Although the women in The Joy Luck Club are Chinese or Chinese American, and their heritage plays an important part in their lives, they also have experiences that all of us face, regardless of culture, even today. They struggle with raising their children, contend with unhappy marriages, cope with difficult financial circumstances, and are disheartened by bad luck. Which of the eight main characters did you identify with the most? Why?
  • When Jing-mei’s aunties tell her about her sisters, they insist that she travel to China to see them, to tell them about their mother. They are taken aback when Jing-mei responds. “What will I say? What can I tell them about my mother? I don’t know anything. She was my mother” (p. 36). Jing-mei thinks that the reason this upsets the aunties is that it makes them fear that they may not know their own daughters either. How does this exchange set the stage for the stories that follow? To what extent do you think that Jing-mei is right? How well do any of the mothers and daughters know each other in this book?
  • Discuss the topic of marriage as it is represented in The Joy Luck Club. Each of the women faces difficult choices when it comes to marrying—whether it be Lindo Jong being forced into an early union with a man she loathes, Ying-Ying St. Clair starting life over with an American man after being abandoned by her first husband, or Rose Hsu Jordan, who is facing divorce from a man whose family never understood her. How are the daughters’ romantic choices influenced, if at all, by their mothers, who had fewer choices of their own?
  • When she is young, Waverly Jong is a chess prodigy. It is a common conception in the United States that young Asian children are more driven than their peers and more likely to excel because their parents demand more of them. However, it is Waverly’s mother who influences Waverly to quit chess, due to a hurtful argument. What do you think of mother and daughter’s reactions to this event? Find other examples that challenge American stereotypes of Chinese culture in The Joy Luck Club.
  • While Waverly was a prodigy and grew up to be successful in her career, Jing-mei (or “June” as she is called in America) has had more difficulty. Her parents also wished for her to be a “genius,” as if hard work alone could will it. Using Jing-mei Woo’s chapter “Best Quality” (p. 221) as a platform, discuss the differences between the daughters of the members of the Joy Luck Club. What does the dinner scene between Waverly and June say about each of their characters? How is their behavior influenced by family and culture?
  • Throughout their stories, the women in The Joy Luck Club and their daughters exhibit many signs, at different moments, of both strength and weakness. On page 170, when Lena St. Clair is describing her relationship with Harold, she claims that “I think I deserve someone like Harold, and I mean in the good sense and not like bad karma. We’re equals.” Knowing what you do about Lena and Harold’s relationship, do you think that’s true? Does a thought like this represent strength or weakness on Lena’s part? What are some other moments of strength and weakness, both major and minor, that you can identify in the women in this book?
  • The title of the book, The Joy Luck Club, is taken from Suyuan Woo’s establishment of a gathering between women, first in China, and later in San Francisco. The club has been maintained for many years and undergone many changes since its inception—for instance, the husbands of the women now attend, and they pool their money to buy stock instead of relying only on their mahjong winnings. What do you think is the significance of these meetings to the women who attend them? Why do you think these four families have continued to come together like this after so much time has passed? Can you think of any rituals that you have with friends that are similar to this?
  • In Rose Hsu Jordan’s story, “Half and Half,” a terrible tragedy befalls her youngest brother Bing while she is watching him. At first she is fearful that her parents will be angry with her, but instead her mother relies on both her Christian faith and Chinese beliefs in ancestor worship. On page 140, Rose says the following: “I think about Bing, about how I knew he was in danger, how I let it happen. I think about my marriage, how I had seen the signs, I really had. But I just let it happen. And I think now that fate is shaped half by faith, half by inattention.” What does she mean by this? Do you agree with her? Do you think that Rose’s mother, An-mei, truly lost her faith that day when they lost Bing?
  • Suyuan Woo is the only member of the Joy Luck Club who does not have her own voice in this book—she died a few months before the story begins. Why do you think the author made that choice? Why is it significant that her daughter is the main narrator, and that it is the story of her lost daughters in Kweilin that serve as a beginning and end to the book?
  • When Jing-mei visits China with her father toward the end of the book, she is constantly struck by the signs of capitalism everywhere: in the hotel she finds “a wet bar stocked with Heineken beer, Coke Classic, and Seven-Up, mini-bottles of Johnnie Walker Red, Bacardi rum and Smirnoff vodka, and packets of M&M’s, honey roasted cashews, and Cadbury chocolate bars. And again I say out loud, ‘This is communist China?’ ” (p. 319). What does she mean by this observation and question? What do you think she was expecting when she made the trip? In this scene, Jing-mei is also visiting her parents’ homeland for the first time, after hearing so many stories about it. Have you ever visited a foreign place and found it to be very different from what you had imagined?
  • What are your thoughts on the structure of The Joy Luck Club? It is not a traditional novel told by one narrator, but the stories are very intricately connected. How did that affect your reading experience? What were some of the differences you noticed in the way that you read this book as opposed to other novels or collections of stories?
  • Amy Tan’s work has been highly anthologized for students, and her books, especially The Joy Luck Club, are read in more than thirty countries around the world. Why do you think this book has such a universal appeal? What are some of the elements of the plot and aspects of the characters that make so many different kinds of people want to read it?
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 293 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 293 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 6, 2012

    A Chinese World

    The Joy Luck Club is a story that portrays the different vignettes of four tenacious Chinese immigrant mothers and their first generation strong American daughters. As a first generation Chinese myself, I could immediately relate to some of the difficulties that the daughters faced, and many of the vignettes of the mothers reminded me of my parents/grandparents stories. The story also gives the reader a glimpse into the life of a typical Chinese lady in the 20th century and introduces the reader to Chinese culture and society.

    In the book, the daughters often try to be free from the constant nagging of the mother's, and one of the daughters even views her mother as an obstacle she must overcome, her own personal battle. I could really relate to the hard time that the daughters faced, because I myself am used to having my grandpa always comment on everything I do. His complaining would often leave me feeling imprisoned and constrained. I just wanted to get away from everything and anything that had to do with my family. However, through the course of this book I came to realize that the nitpicking of the older generation was just their own unique way of showing their love for their children.

    Many times, the Chinese daughters are often left confused by their mother's messages. The daughters cannot relate and understand the underlying meaning because of the different cultures that the mothers and daughters come from. While the Chinese culture is a high context culture the American culture is the polar opposite, a low context culture. Often times, the clashing of cultures would lead to confusion and frustration on both sides. I think that another reason why the mothers and daughters have such a difficult time understanding each other is because of the completely different environments that they grew up in. The mother's faced sexism, racism, and the struggle to just simply survive. Often times, the things that they learned growing up became important symbols and lessons that they hoped to pass down to their children. But to the daughters who grew up in an environment where they tried to hide their roots as much as possible, and being Asian was "unfashionable", these messages only helped to widen the gap between mother and daughter. The book illustrates the journey that the mothers and daughters faced trying to understand the different cultures and perspectives of the Chinese and American way of thinking.

    Chinese people prize filial piety above all other characteristics, and I remember often having to go to temples to pay my respects to my ancestors and that I could not talk back to my elders. In one of the stories, the Joy Luck Club is having a crab dinner. Since everyone immediately grabbed the largest and juiciest crabs, the hosts, Suyuan (mother), and Jing-mei (daughter), are left with the last two crabs. Jing-mei knows that one of the crabs was dead before they bought it, which is bad luck in Chinese culture, so she willingly grabs the dead crab so that her mother may enjoy the tastier crab. This is a very good example of filial piety, while everyone else is greedy, and hopes for the best for themselves, the daughter is being respectful by leaving the better crab for her mother. I specifically remembered this story from the book because I think that if I was in the same position as Jing-mei I would have taken the better crab for myself.

    18 out of 19 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 4, 2012

    Pretty good

    It would be much more enjoyable if i didnt have to write a report

    6 out of 9 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 27, 2010

    The Joyluck Club Book Reveiw

    With stories of the past, relationships between the mothers and daughters show a gap of no understanding. The recent death of Suyuan Woo's mother, Jing Mei "June" Woo, causes questions to pop up after her passing. The questions leave blanks in what is to be contrasted in similarities and differences. It made the daughters think in a new light of how there mothers were, and showed a better understanding of their actions and words. The mothers tell tales of their culture, and how different it is from what their daughters now know in America. While Suyuan is reviewing over her mother's life from her aunts, she makes realizations of what her mother had done in life, and what she must do to grant her mother's dead dream.
    In the expressions of the mothers, a most common fact to find was that they would relate themselves often to their daughters, and would predict or describe in greater meaning, events that occur. The mother's described struggles and hardships that they went through in their youth. Most often, the daughters would misunderstand the message of what the mothers were telling them. The lessons and morals in their stories brought out a new point of view. A memorable experience I had while reading this book was the new found information on what China was like, and I shared some views on how there had to be sacrifices in order to gain what was thought as endless riches, and freedom.

    5 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 23, 2007

    One of the most enlighting books ever!!!!!!!!!!!

    This book was one of the most enlighting, purest books ever! I loved it from the beginning it shows you the powerful bond between mothers and daughters 'cheesy I know but true!'. It shows hardship, passion, and experience. It showed me what mothers are capable of and what they would do to protect their children, and it inspired me to be in English Honors as well as a possible future writer...

    5 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 15, 2000

    WOW

    Wow is what I have to say about this book if I had to describe it in one word. I'm a senior in high school and my english teacher gave it to me because we are going to read it later in the year but I read it early. I started on the first page and couldn't stop. I have never read a lot like this, I read all 336 pages in two days, in school, after school, whenever I had the chance. I LOVE the way Amy Tan wrote this book, the vignettes are so beautiful and touching. I found myself really feeling for the characters in the book. I am mesmorized, I feel the most unexplainable feeling of happiness and sadness since I have read it. I can't wait to read it again!

    5 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 12, 2008

    Must read and watch.

    The book was just as good as the movie.

    4 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 20, 2011

    Slow Read

    The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan was a very slow read and I had a very difficult time getting into the story. What was interesting to me was that the women were so rude to one another although there were glimpses of kindness. These women lived in difficult times, indured injustice and yet they didn't support one another with graciousness. Amy Tan reveals the Chinese culture and the difficult transition from China to America. This story begs the question "How well do you really know your mother?"

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 12, 2012

    Amy Tan¿s Joy Luck Club is a realistic novel emphasizing Chinese

    Amy Tan’s Joy Luck Club is a realistic novel emphasizing Chinese heritage. It tells the stories of four families, four mothers: Suyuan Woo, An-mei Hsu, Lindo Jong, and Ying-Ying St. Clair, and their four daughters: Jing-mei Woo, Rose Hsu, Waverly Jong, and Lena St. Clair---each story telling the past of each mother and how their daughters live now. All four of these families are joined together by the Joy Luck Club---a club that meets weekly and plays mahjong. One mother dies, and her daughter, Jing-mei, is on a quest to uncover something that her mom left behind in China. Another was married off as a child, but escapes. Another raises a chess-playing champion. I thought this book was a really great read, but somewhat confusing to follow, considering each chapter is not from the same perspective as the previous one. When I began a chapter about one of the daughters, I would have to go back and review who their mother is and what they did. I believe that the theme of the book is family heritage, and would be great for daughters to read with their moms. This book is only 288 pages long, but I found it difficult to hold my attention for long periods of time. Overall, I would give The Joy Luck Club 3 stars out of five; interesting, yet difficult to keep up with.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 12, 2010

    Everyone has a story to tell

    This is really a great book to read, because of the lessons behind each story. Eight unique women from two generations and each have a story to tell. The joy luck club is a book that different type of people will enjoy and get to learn in the process. It allows readers to travel to China and learn some of the customs. It also touches the different types of loves that exist in the world such as the love for the family or the love for a partner. It really is a fun book to read and some might even shed a tear or two.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 12, 2006

    Pretty Good

    I recently read this for my AP English class, and I enjoyed it. It was pretty interesting, not my first choice as far as literature goes, but still good. Interesting dynamics.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 22, 2012

    so-so

    not super-impressed. had trouble keeping characters straight. kinda slow. ending predictable.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 26, 2011

    Great read!

    There are so many stories within the stories it was very hard to put it down. I wish the book had told even more! It really got you to FEEL how these women felt! I highly recommend it to women of all ages.
    I gave this max stars, but I'm having trouble sending it with the stars showing.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 17, 2011

    Great Book!

    Very interesting I liked how it dealt with family. In the beginning it was about mother and daughters and their relationship.It shows creation and passion and keeps readers interested. There are different kinds of lessons to learn in this book. It is really just a great book.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 13, 2010

    The Joy Luck club: A Joy In Memories

    This book tells about China at that time related to the lives of four women and how they try to inherit their memories and lessons to their daughters. The memory, experience, and lessons captured my mind. This book reveals the hidden lives of Chinese immigrants and it tells us how China has developed from the period when the mothers lived, up to the period when their daughters lived. The style of writing by Amy Tan was surely a fresh experience.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 6, 2010

    The Joy Luck Club

    This is one of my favorite books of all time. I really enjoyed reading it. I had to finish it in one sitting because I just couldn't stop. I recommend this book to anyone who wants to read a good book about culture, family, and drama.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 9, 2015

    People don't seem to realize that this is not the actual novel!

    People don't seem to realize that this is not the actual novel! "Amy Tan's The Joy Luck Club (Bloom's Modern Critical Interpretations Series) Is a book of literary analysis of the novel by other authors and literary critics. I'm writing a research paper that will focus on "A Pair of Tickets", the final chapter of the novel and picked up a copy of this book from my local library. The contributors give some extremely detailed opinions on various aspects of the book,such as the theme, characterization, etc. which is much more than my usual types of college reading. Still, It has some interesting perspectives on the novel and I will be using this book as one of my sources. 

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 31, 2014

    I am starting freshman year in the fall and I selected this nove

    I am starting freshman year in the fall and I selected this novel as one of my choice novels. I chose this book because I was interested in learning about Chinese culture. Each country or race has an individual culture that is unique to themselves, and this book does an incredible job of describing the special characteristics of Chinese culture. This book also satisfied my love of historical fiction. 

    I would recommend this novel to another high school reader because it contains not just one, but many individual stories describing the childhood, adolescence, and maturing of the women who started the Joy Luck Club, and their daughters. Each talks about their personal struggles, their joys, and their inner thoughts and feelings during different points of their lives. It's a novel that you can relate to, but it's also a novel that can draw you in with the haunting ideas of what some of the women had to go through. Also, it shows how important the strong bond between mothers and daughters is, and also makes clear the similarities and differences between them. Overall, I would recommend this book because it is not only fascinating and relatable, it is also a source of knowledge about family, overcoming obstacles in life, and Chinese culture. Also, because the book is comprised of many shorter stories, you won't lose interest in the book as a whole even if one of the stories is uninteresting to you. 

    This text met my expectations as a novel because I was looking for a novel that was historical and relatable, a book that you would be able to read without getting bored. This book not only fulfilled my expectations, it exceeded them. The Joy Luck Club is a book that will connect the reader with the lives of eight women, and will let the reader experience each of their struggles and triumphs. It helped me to gain a better understanding of Chinese culture, both modern and ancient. This book is definitely one-of-a-kind and I would recommend it to anyone who is as interested as I am in understanding culture and the importance of family.

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  • Posted August 23, 2014

    the movie is a spoiler

    the movie is a spoiler, and I couldn't even read the end of the book. I managed a few chapters and I found one in the end where a character's brother drowns and the mother is shaken. I stopped immediately due to the fact I lost my own daughter in such a manner. It hurts you as a parent you couldn't help your child in the last few moments of their life, and living with the should have could have is worse. I enjoyed this book as a sixteen year old. Who at the age of I know everything, I couldn't see this hurt my own mother, and I wasn't aware how naïve I was. Being a mother, and experiencing loss I don't disdain the book but it's not the romantic fiery book I once thought it was

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 19, 2014

    I Also Recommend:

    Wonderful, instructive history from beginning to end - and to b

    Wonderful, instructive history from beginning to end - and to be followed with the movie!

    A captivating classic full of beautifully delivered messages to inspire all types of readers for years to come
    Loved it!

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  • Posted February 14, 2014

    A wonderful book

    This is by far one of my all time favorite books. The characters and settings seem to just come alive. You'll get lost in the story wanting to find out what happens next. So many lessons and messages are hidden within the stories that span all races and age groups. I fell in love with the book a long time ago and find myself reading it again and again and each time finding something I had missed.

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