The Bonesetter’s Daughter – Amy Tan – 6/10

“Those were the small rituals we had, what comforted us, what we loved, what we could look forward to, what we could be thankful for. And remember afterward.”

bonesetter
Ruth Young doesn’t know what to do about her ailing mother LuLing – she’s forgetful and argumentative, clearly on the cusp of Alzheimer’s. In an effort to break through her mother’s increasing paranoia, she finally makes time to sit down and read the memoirs her mother has been asking her to read for years. She learns about her mother’s difficult childhood, the time in a Christian orphanage, the struggle to get to America, and suddenly so much is clear.

The book is divided into three sections – Ruth’s initial struggles with her mother, the written account of her mother’s life in China before and during the Second World War, including the Japanese occupation, and the ending.

I actually particularly enjoyed the first section; Ruth’s struggles as the put-upon daughter, her relationship issues and distrust of her partner’s ex-wife. It’s standard commercial fiction stuff, but tempered by the cultural conflict, and more sensibly introspective than most.

The middle section is the longest. It feels like this is section that the book is really supposed to be about and the other bits are bookends (literally?) but I couldn’t have made it through the whole book if it was all in the tragic, disaster-ridden tone of the middle section. So many of these books seem to tell the same story – The Kitchen God’s Wife, Chinese Cinderella etc. i.e. the story of a daughter of the family who is somehow apart from the others, and her shameful treatment at the hands of the family. This novel is a little happier than average, and LuLing gets her happy ending without too many disasters. I found this section at once the least interestingly written and the most interesting subject matter.

The ending is a little saccharine – the domestic battle that has been bubbling for months is forgotten through a lavish financial contribution; the step-daughters who are surly and difficult at the start of the book suddenly want to spend time with Ruth and her mother. There is a late discussion with someone who would actually have been able to help with Ruth’s troubles had she only thought to ask earlier (as was the case in The Kitchen God’s wife). I wonder whether the concluding section was actually carved too savagely by an editor? In any case, all the issues are neatly wrapped up.

As I always do with this type of book, I found the female characters strong and easily identifiable, while the men were one-dimensional and muddled. Why is this always the case? Something to do with the fact that the whole narrative is from a female perspective? Ruth is a sympathetic protagonist; struggling with her duties as a good daughter, partner and step-mother. LuLing is a more difficult character to understand, but she holds her own well enough.

A perfectly good holiday book, but there’s better works in this genre (by this author, too).

Additional info

Copy from Bookmooch, I think. It has moved house with me twice, judging by the 15/10/10 post-it on the inside cover. 
Publisher: Flamingo, 339 pages (paperback)
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5 thoughts on “The Bonesetter’s Daughter – Amy Tan – 6/10

  1. themisanthropologist 21 October 2014 at 7:05 am Reply

    I read this a long time ago, and I don’t remember much about it now, but I do remember that I liked it. I like Amy Tan, and apart from this, I also read The Joy Luck Club and A Hundred Secret Senses, which I also both liked, but I think The Joy Luck Club was probably the best.

    • readingwithtea 21 October 2014 at 7:34 am Reply

      I read The Kitchen God’s Wife earlier in the year, and preferred it to this – a very smooth read.

  2. […] The Bonesetter’s Daughter – an overly twee ending – I suspect this was edited heavily. […]

  3. Mini-reviews | Reading With Tea 24 December 2014 at 5:01 pm Reply

    […] me until December 2014 to review it. In the meantime I have read a different book by Amy Tan, The Bonesetter’s Daughter, and now cannot tell them apart in my mind. I do remember that The Kitchen God’s Wife felt […]

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