–The Philadelphia Inquirer
“[An] absorbing tale of the mother-daughter bond . . . this book sing[s] with emotion and insight.”
Ruth Young and her widowed mother, LuLing, have always had a tumultuous relationship. Now, before she succumbs to forgetfulness, LuLing gives Ruth some of her writings, which reveal a side of LuLing that Ruth has never known. . . .
In a remote mountain village where ghosts and tradition rule, LuLing grows up in the care of her mute Precious Auntie as the family endures a curse laid upon a relative known as the bonesetter. When headstrong LuLing rejects the marriage proposal of the coffinmaker, a shocking series of events are set in motion–all of which lead back to Ruth and LuLing in modern San Francisco. The truth that Ruth learns from her mother’s past will forever change her perception of family, love, and forgiveness.
“A strong novel, filled with idiosyncratic, sympathetic characters; haunting images; historical complexity; significant contemporary themes; and suspenseful mystery.”
–Los Angeles Times
“For Tan, the true keeper of memory is language, and so the novel is layered with stories that have been written down–by mothers for their daughters, passing along secrets that cannot be said out loud but must not be forgotten.”
–The New York Times Book Review
“Tan at her best . . . rich and hauntingly forlorn . . . The writing is so exacting and unique in its detail.”
–San Francisco Chronicle
|Publisher:||Random House Publishing Group|
|Edition description:||First Edition|
|Product dimensions:||5.49(w) x 8.25(h) x 0.84(d)|
About the Author
Hometown:San Francisco, California and New York, New York
Date of Birth:February 19, 1952
Place of Birth:Oakland, California
Education:B.A., San Jose State University, 1973; M.A., 1974
Read an Excerpt
These are the things I know are true:
My name is LuLing Liu Young. The names of my husbands were
Pan Kai Jing and Edwin Young, both of them dead and our secrets gone with them. My daughter is Ruth Luyi Young. She was born in a
Water Dragon Year and I in a Fire Dragon Year. So we are the same but for opposite reasons.
I know all this, yet there is one name I cannot remember. It is there in the oldest layer of my memory, and I cannot dig it out. A
hundred times I have gone over that morning when Precious Auntie wrote it down. I was only six then, but very smart. I could count. I
could read. I had a memory for everything, and here is my memory of that winter morning.
I was sleepy, still lying on the brick k'ang bed I shared with Precious
Auntie. The flue to our little room was furthest from the stove in the common room, and the bricks beneath me had long turned cold. I felt my shoulder being shaken. When I opened my eyes, Precious
Auntie began to write on a scrap of paper, then showed me what she had written. "I can't see," I complained. "It's too dark."
She huffed, set the paper on the low cupboard, and motioned that
I should get up. She lighted the teapot brazier, and tied a scarf over her nose and mouth when it started to smoke. She poured face-washing water into the teapot's chamber, and when it was cooked, she started our day. She scrubbed my face and ears. She parted my hair and combed my bangs. She wet down any strands that stuck out like spider legs. Then she gathered the long part of my hair into two bundles and braided them. She banded the top with red ribbon, the bottom with green. I wagged my head so that my braids swung like the happy ears of palace dogs. And Precious Auntie sniffed the air as if she, too, were a dog wondering, What's that good smell? That sniff was how she said my nickname, Doggie. That was how she talked.
She had no voice, just gasps and wheezes, the snorts of a ragged wind. She told me things with grimaces and groans, dancing eyebrows and darting eyes. She wrote about the world on my carry-around chalkboard. She also made pictures with her blackened hands. Hand-talk, face-talk, and chalk-talk were the languages I
grew up with, soundless and strong.
As she wound her hair tight against her skull, I played with her box of treasures. I took out a pretty comb, ivory with a rooster carved at each end. Precious Auntie was born a Rooster. "You wear this," I demanded, holding it up. "Pretty." I was still young enough to believe that beauty came from things, and I wanted Mother to favor her more. But Precious Auntie shook her head. She pulled off her scarf and pointed to her face and bunched her brows. What use do I have for prettiness? she was saying.
Her bangs fell to her eyebrows like mine. The rest of her hair was bound into a knot and stabbed together with a silver prong. She had a sweet-peach forehead, wide-set eyes, full cheeks tapering to a small plump nose. That was the top of her face. Then there was the bottom.
She wiggled her blackened fingertips like hungry flames. See what the fire did.
I didn't think she was ugly, not in the way others in our family did. "Ai-ya, seeing her, even a demon would leap out of his skin," I
once heard Mother remark. When I was small, I liked to trace my fingers around Precious Auntie 's mouth. It was a puzzle. Half was bumpy, half was smooth and melted closed. The inside of her right cheek was stiff as leather, the left was moist and soft. Where the gums had burned, the teeth had fallen out. And her tongue was like a parched root. She could not taste the pleasures of life: salty and bitter,
sour and sharp, spicy, sweet, and fat.
No one else understood Precious Auntie 's kind of talk, so I had to say aloud what she meant. Not everything, though, not our secret stories. She often told me about her father, the Famous Bonesetter from the Mouth of the Mountain, about the cave where they found the dragon bones, how the bones were divine and could cure any pain, except a grieving heart. "Tell me again," I said that morning,
wishing for a story about how she burned her face and became my nursemaid.
I was a fire-eater, she said with her hands and eyes. Hundreds of people came to see me in the market square. Into the burning pot of my mouth I dropped raw pork, added chilis and bean paste, stirred this up,
then offered the morsels to people to taste. If they said, "Delicious!" I
opened my mouth as a purse to catch their copper coins. One day, however,
I ate the fire, and the fire came back, and it ate me. After that, I decided not to be a cook-pot anymore, so I became your nursemaid instead.
I laughed and clapped my hands, liking this made-up story best.
The day before, she told me she had stared at an unlucky star falling out of the sky and then it dropped into her open mouth and burned her face. The day before that, she said she had eaten what she thought was a spicy Hunan dish only to find that it was the coals used for cooking.
No more stories, Precious Auntie now told me, her hands talking fast. It's almost time for breakfast, and we must pray while we're still hungry. She retrieved the scrap of paper from the cupboard, folded it in half, and tucked it into the lining of her shoe. We put on our padded winter clothes and walked into the cold corridor. The air smelled of coal fires in other wings of the compound. I saw Old
Cook pumping his arm to turn the crank over the well. I heard a tenant yelling at her lazy daughter-in-law. I passed the room that my sister, GaoLing, shared with Mother, the two of them still asleep. We hurried to the south-facing small room, to our ancestral hall. At the threshold, Precious Auntie gave me a warning look. Act humble. Take off your shoes. In my stockings, I stepped onto cold gray tiles. Instantly,
my feet were stabbed with an iciness that ran up my legs,
through my body, and dripped out my nose. I began to shake.
The wall facing me was lined with overlapping scrolls of couplets,
gifts to our family from scholars who had used our ink over the last two hundred years. I had learned to read one, a poem-painting:
"Fish shadows dart downstream," meaning our ink was dark, beautiful,
and smooth-flowing. On the long altar table were two statues,
the God of Longevity with his white-waterfall beard, and the Goddess of Mercy, her face smooth, free of worry. Her black eyes looked into mine. Only she listened to the woes and wishes of women, Precious
Auntie said. Perched around the statues were spirit tablets of the Liu ancestors, their wooden faces carved with their names. Not all my ancestors were there, Precious Auntie told me, just the ones my family considered most important. The in-between ones and those belonging to women were stuck in trunks or forgotten.
Precious Auntie lighted several joss sticks. She blew on them until they began to smolder. Soon more smoke rose--a jumble of our breath, our offerings, and hazy clouds that I thought were ghosts who would try to yank me down to wander with them in the World of Yin. Precious Auntie once told me that a body grows cold when it is dead. And since I was chilled to the bone that morning, I was afraid.
"I'm cold," I whimpered, and tears leaked out.
Precious Auntie sat on a stool and drew me to her lap. Stop that,
Doggie, she gently scolded, or the tears will freeze into icicles and poke out your eyes. She kneaded my feet fast, as if they were dumpling dough. Better? How about now, better?
After I stopped crying, Precious Auntie lighted more joss sticks.
She went back to the threshold and picked up one of her shoes. I can still see it--the dusty blue cloth, the black piping, the tiny embroidery of an extra leaf where she had repaired the hole. I thought she was going to burn her shoe as a send-away gift to the dead. Instead,
from the shoe 's lining, she took out the scrap of paper with the writing she had showed me earlier. She nodded toward me and said with her hands: My family name, the name of all the bonesetters. She put the paper name in front of my face again and said, Never forget this name, then placed it carefully on the altar. We bowed and rose,
bowed and rose. Each time my head bobbed up, I looked at that name. And the name was--
Why can't I see it now? I've pushed a hundred family names through my mouth, and none comes back with the belch of memory.
Was the name uncommon? Did I lose it because I kept it a secret too long? Maybe I lost it the same way I lost all my favorite things--the jacket GaoLing gave me when I left for the orphan school, the dress my second husband said made me look like a movie star, the first baby dress that Luyi outgrew. Each time I loved something with a special ache, I put it in my trunk of best things. I hid those things for so long I almost forgot I had them.
This morning I remembered the trunk. I went to put away the birthday present that Luyi gave me. Gray pearls from Hawaii, beautiful beyond belief. When I opened the lid, out rose a cloud of moths, a stream of silverfish. Inside I found a web of knitted holes, one after the other. The embroidered flowers, the bright colors, now gone. Almost all that mattered in my life has disappeared, and the worst is losing Precious Auntie 's name.
Precious Auntie, what is our name? I always meant to claim it as my own. Come help me remember. I'm not a little girl anymore. I'm not afraid of ghosts. Are you still mad at me? Don't you recognize me? I am LuLing, your daughter.
What People are Saying About This
“AS COMPELLING AS TAN’S FIRST BESTSELLER THE JOY LUCK CLUB. . . No one writes about mothers and daughters with more empathy than Amy Tan.”
–The Philadelphia Inquirer
“[AN] ABSORBING TALE OF THE MOTHER-DAUGHTER BOND . . . THIS BOOK SING[S] WITH EMOTION AND INSIGHT.”
“POIGNANT AND BITTERSWEET . . . A STORY OF SECRETS AND REVELATION, ESTRANGEMENT AND RECONCILIATION.”
–Rocky Mountain News
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 the adage that blood is thicker than water?
8.How does the dynamic between LuLing and GaoLing evolve as the book unfolds? What emotions does LuLing feel most strongly toward GaoLing, and vice versa? Why?
9.Although GaoLing speaks English ﬂuently, by contrast, LuLing never learns to communicate effectively in the language, instead relying on Ruth to be her mouthpiece. How is the spoken word depicted in this novel? Is it more or less important than the written word? How does LuLing communicate in other ways–for example, artistically?
10.How does the concept of destiny shape the lives of both Precious Auntie and LuLing? How does each woman ﬁght against the strictures of fate? In the modern world, does destiny hold as much weight? Why or why not?
11.Both Precious Auntie and LuLing lose love in tragic ways. How is romantic love depicted in The Bonesetter’s Daughter? How does Ruth’s concept of love differ from that of her grandmother’s and mother’s? Does LuLing’s conception of love evolve over time?
12.LuLing is introduced to Western ideas and religion while living and working in an American-run orphanage. How does she reconcile these different ideologies with the beliefs she holds? Does her belief in her family’s curse fade or blossom within the conﬁnes of a different societal framework?
13.How does LuLing forge a new life for herself in America? In which ways does she remain constrained by the past, and in which ways does she triumph over it?
14.Which of GaoLing’s characteristics enable her to adjust to America with more ease than her sister? Which make it more difﬁcult?
15.“Orchids look delicate but thrive on neglect.” In which way does this idle musing by Ruth apply to the other relationships in the novel, including her own with Art and his children?
16.Ruth has lived with the specter of Precious Auntie her entire life. How does her mother’s obsession with Precious Auntie affect Ruth? Do you view Precious Auntie’s presence next to Ruth in the last scene of the book as a ﬁgurative or a literal one? Why?
17.Based on her manuscript alone, the translator of LuLing’s story becomes fascinated with her. What about her story, in your 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 Lu-Ling?
An Interview with Amy Tan
Barnes& Noble.com: 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&N.com: 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&N.com: 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&N.com: 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&N.com: 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&N.com: 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&N.com: 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&N.com: 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&N.com: 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&N.com: 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&N.com: 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&N.com: 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&N.com: 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.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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.
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.
I listened to this on audio and really liked it. The Joy Luck Club is more popular than this book and I don't know why. This one was way better. Overview: Ruth has always had a complex relationship with her mother. Through her childhood, she struggled to understand her mother's previous life in China and the marriage she had before her mother married her father. When her mother starts showing signs that she's losing her memory and even starts fabricating the truth, Ruth becomes really concerned. She looks to the pages her mother wrote in Chinese and had given her years ago. Ruth had set them aside meaning to translate them but never got around to it. Now, she realizes it is her mother's life story and the importance it plays now that her mother doesn't know what is truth anymore. What she finds out, once it's translated, is the heartbreaking tale of the family secret that haunts her mother and the family curse she believes to exist. After reading the translated pages, Ruth looks back to the past and is able to see her mother with new eyes. Growing up she was annoyed and embarrassed by her mother's strange ways but is now able to see that her mother was just tormented by the ghost of her own mother. What's really sad is when it says that Ruth shoves her mother's pages in a drawer after failing at translating it herself. Every year her mother would ask if she finished translating it until she eventually stopped asking, saying that Ruth was too busy for her. When you realize the importance of the papers, it's that much more heartbreaking to know how her mother must have felt. Later, in her mother's story, you see the same thing happening when she refuses to read papers given to her, resulting in tragic consequences.
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.
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.
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.
Pullls you into another cultiure. You never feel like an ooutsider.
Tan did a wonderful job showing how uncovering your family's truths and past can be a liberating and challenging experience.
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.
Loved it.. so much rich history and charm, real lessons to be learned ... a woman's dynasty.
The first time Amy Tan - The New York Times best-selling author of The Joy Luck Club, The Kitchen God's Wife, and The Hundred Secret Senses - learned her mother's real name as well as that of her grandmother was on the day she died. It happened as Tan and several sidblings - unified by a need to feel helpful instead of helpless - gathered to discuss their dying mother's past and prepare her obituary. Tan was stunned when she realized she had not known her own mother's birth name. It was just one of several surprises. In the act of writing a simple obituary Tan came to realize there was still so much she did not know about her. Soon afterwards she began rewriting the novel she had been working on for five years. Inspired by her own experiences with family secrets kept by one generation from the next, and drawn from a lifetime of questions and images, the result is The Bonesetters's Daughter. The story begins when Ruth Young, a ghostwriter of self-help books, comes across a clipped stack of papers in the bottom of a desk drawer. Young has been caring for her ailing mother, LuLing, who is beginning to show the unmistakable signs of Alzheimer's disease. Written in Chinese by LuLing years earlier, when she first started worrying something was wrong with her memory, the papers contain a narrative of LuLing's life as a girl in China, and the life of her own mother, the daughter of the Famous Bonesetter from the village of Xian Xin - Immortal Heart - near the Mouth of the Mountain. Within the calligraphed pages Ruth finds the truth about a mother's heart, what she cannot tell her daughter yet hopes her daughter will never forget. With her latest novel Amy Tan explores the changing place one has in a family of names that were nearly forgotten. Just as she herself has done, Tan shows Ruth finding the secrets and fragments of her mother's past - its heartfelt desires, its deepest wounds, its most profound hopes - and with each new discovery reconfiguring her assessment of the woman who shaped her life, who is in her bones. The extent to which Tan's newest novel mixes pure fiction with elements of autobiography is made clear by Tan herself. In acknowledgements of The Bonesetter's Daughter she writes, "The heart of this story belongs to my grandmother, its voice to my mother."
Ruth is a 40-something American woman who has come to the realization that her Chinese immigrant mother, LaoLing, is losing her memory as a result of dementia. LaoLing, who realized that her memory was leaving her before her daughter did, painstakingly penned her life story and secrets to share with her daughter. Much of the novel is LaoLing's memories of her life and experiences in China. Two mother-daughter stories are presented in the multigenerational, bi-continental family story, that of LaoLing and Ruth, as well as that between LaoLing and her own mother. Past and present were woven together nicely, and the emotions associated with memory loss are explored thoroughly. The novel did not quite live up to The Joy Luck Club, even though the themes were similar, but I still enjoyed it. Tan continues to have a witty style of writing that is heartfelt as well as humorous.
Another by Tan that I really enjoyed; the mother-daughter relationship was incredibly intense, and the story about the grandmother and mother was absolutely beautiful. Highly recommended.
Formulaic, yet addictive...I almost feel bad criticizing this book for being overly formulaic when I actually enjoyed parts of it so much. Yes, this is typical Amy Tan fare, which includes mother-daughter angst, immigrant culture, and old Chinese family secrets dusted off and gradually exposed through some engrossing storytelling. The story shifts between present-day San Francisco where we follow Ruth Young and her struggles with her Chinese-born mother, LuLing, and pre-WW2 rural China where we are treated to sumptious descriptions of old customs and superstitions surrounding LuLing's family origins. As with Tan's other books, it is when she takes the reader back in time to China that the story really shines. When the plot returns to America, it almost feels like a complete let-down. In present time, Ruth's mother, LuLing, suffers from dementia, and as a result she has written down her life story in Chinese for her daughter to read. Ruth, who is not fluent in written Mandarin, hires someone to translate the story, and it is through this translation we are treated to the memoirs of LuLing. The bonesetter is her grandfather, and the daughter actually refers to LuLing's real mother - or Precious Auntie as she is called. This tragic title character is at the center of the story both before and after her death, and the injustices done to her by her adversaries as well as her own family are heartwrenching. The dynamic between LuLing and her "sister" GaoLing is also well portrayed, and the sisterly jealousies as well as loyalties are well characterized. The family business aspects, caligraphy descriptions and the ink-producing process are fascinating to read. All the superstitions and ghosts that envelope every character in China, however, are the most satisfying parts. There are numerous subplots and transitory characters, both in China and in San Fransisco. There are the two American missionaries along with Sister Yu, who run the orphanage where LuLing spends several years both as student and teacher. There are the British mother and daughter and their talking parrot in Hong Kong where LiuLing as a maid learns English. There are the archeologists who are excavating the Peking Man - and the one who wins LuLing's heart. The subplot involving Dottie and Lance from Ruth's childhood, however, albeit interesting, seemed to fizzle out without a proper conclusion. Finally, the main male characters in the story were quite one-dimensional (saintly or evil) - but this is rather typical in Tan's writing. The end is too contrived in its desperate attempt to provide some sort of closure between everyone. Also, the translator's role becomes a bit too sentimental. You leave the book wishing to read more about China, which is actually a good feeling. All in all, this is a comforting hammock read without profound implications.
This is one of my favorite Amy Tan books. Tan has a wonderful grasp of what it is like to grow up a second generation immigrant in this country. She also has a very unique perspective on the mother daughter relations ship that is much more truthful than how many writers portray mother daughter relationships.
Interesting book. The treatment of the disfigured aunt was pretty sad. One I would recommend as a read but not to buy.
Ruth's mother is apparenly losing her mind. Her memories are slipping away from her. Ruth finds a document that tells the story of her youth and escape from China to America.Ruth's mother LuLing was the daughter of a woman who was once beautiful until a terrible accident happened. Her family did both calligraphy and ink-making in China, until the death of LuLing's mother, their most gifted calligrapher.Interesting and compelling, this is a story of hard choices and twists of fate.
"The Bonesetters Daughter" is a great story about a daughter taking care of her aging mother and discovering her mother's, and estranged grandmother's past, and understanding way her mother is the way she is and even gains a better understanding of herself. It is a great book, the story will stick with you for a long time, and make sure you give your mom a hug when you are done reading it.
Amy Tan is an elegant storyteller and she does not disappoint with The Bonesetter's Daughter. Tan takes us again into the often tense and misunderstood mother-daughter relationship world, but continues to show the love, sacrifice and tenderness as well.
I love Amy Tan and this is her best book. I can't praise it enough. The writing is simple and beautiful and it is the best plotted of her novels.One of the characters is an elderly woman suffering from Alzheimers Disease. She is described with such tenderness and compassion that I was deeply moved when reading it. Anybody who has to care for an older family member would find pleasure and hope in reading this story.
I read this a few years ago; liked it a lot. I found the mother/daughter relationship touching, not cliched. Keep meaning to read more of Amy...
This is my favorite Amy Tan novel so far. I usually like her writing, whatever it is, but this book had the feel of a lovely, long fairy tale coupled with modern angst. Can't beat that for sheer reading pleasure.
I have to say this is the best so far from Tan. I was completely pulled in by the story and characters! Sad, haunting, & very hard to read at times. Not a quick read, but well worth the time!
am always looking forward to a new amy tan, i will stop what i am reading at the time to get going on her newest but this book didn't capture me like the rest.
It was very wonderfully written about mother/daughter relationship & what binds them together.