The Joy Luck Club
“Then you must teach my daughter this same lesson. How to lose your innocence but not your hope. How to laugh forever.”
In The Joy Luck Club, Amy Tan relates the lives of four mother-daughter pairs, all living in California and all from China. Each week, their families meet as “the Joy Luck Club” for dinner, conversation, and mah jong. The main storyline is that told by Jing-mei, whose mother Suyuan founded the club. Suyuan died while in the midst of contacting family in China, and her desire to find her lost relatives shapes the book.
Tan focuses on the relationships of the daughters with their mothers, and especially the generational and cultural gap that hinders their communication. The daughters often feel pressured by and even afraid of their mothers: “Well, I don’t know if it’s explicitly stated in the law, but you can’t ever tell a Chinese mother to shut up. You could be charged as an accessory to your own murder.” The mothers want their daughters to listen to them and appreciate their efforts and experience, expressing themselves through metaphors and anecdotes: “A girl is like a young tree. . . . You must stand tall and listen to your mother standing next to you. That is the only way to grow strong and straight. But if you bend to listen to other people, you will grow crooked and weak. You will fall to the ground with the first strong wind. And then you will be like a weed, growing wild in any direction, running along the ground until someone pulls you out and throws you away. ” Throughout the novel, both mothers and daughters must learn when to speak and when to listen.
Each of the eight main characters takes turns narrating, which keeps the perspectives fresh but can also make the book confusing. I had to flip back every once in a while to ask myself “Is this the girl who is a genius at chess?” or “Wait, was it this mom who tricked a family into thinking their servant girl was royalty?” I would recommend jotting down the character names in a notebook along with a few key words describing them; it would have saved me some trouble.
I would recommend The Joy Luck Club to anyone. It is insightful and entertaining. This is the first book by Amy Tan that I have read, but I love her writing style and will definitely read more by her in the future.