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Customer Review

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Healing Family Connections in a Rich Historical Context, 25 July 2004
This review is from: The Bonesetter's Daughter (Hardcover)
Ms. Tan has written a monumental novel of the 20th century Chinese immigrants' challenges. The book offers many insights into how children can better integrate into their families by understanding their elders' experiences rather than trying to be totally independent of those experiences. The Bonesetter's Daughter also provides rich food for thought about what the relationships should be between women and men, and parents and their children. The book employs a recycling narrative that will remind the reader of opening up nested Russian dolls.
Ruth Young finds that her mother is failing, especially with her memory. Already busy with a life as a ghostwriter and taking care of her boyfriend and his children, Ruth feels overwhelmed.
A few years earlier, her mother had become interested in passing along some of her heritage and had given Ruth a document written in Chinese. Because Ruth does not read Chinese well, she had put the documents aside. As her mother's mental condition deteriorates, she finds her mother's mind disturbed by having forgotten her mother's real name. Looking through some old papers, she finds another document written in Chinese about things her mother does not want to forget. Hoping to help, Ruth arranges for the documents to be translated.
The bulk of the book then recounts her mother's history in China and in the United States. These experiences were rich and varied, and reading about them will fascinate you.
Addressing the issues raised by solving the question of Ruth's grandmother's name causes Ruth to grow and evolve in her own relationships.
The book is filled with rich themes that are explored from many different dimensions. For example, ghosts are real and important to Ruth's mother, LuLing Young. As a young child, LuLing decides that the ghost of her mother resides in Ruth. To appease her mother, Ruth plays along and answers her mother's questions. You will be fascinated and amused by the results of these discussions. Since Ruth is also a ghostwriter, you will get a new perspective on how ideas are expressed and perceived. Who the author is counts, as well as the content. The author adds credibility so that the information is acted on, and the content either provides good or not so good advice. The story validates both the mother's and the daughter's views of ghosts.
If you are unfamiliar with the history of mainland China in the first half of the 20th century, Ms. Tan's book will give you many of the important outlines as they were experienced at the local level. You will encounter the shift away from binding women's feet, the beginnings of education for women, the falling off of the old crafts and beliefs, the effects of drug addiction on families, the influence of Christian missionaries, scientific investigations of human evolution, and the development of new ways for women and men to marry and relate to one another.
You will be fascinated by the many echoes of the experiences that LuLing had with her mother, and those that Ruth had with LuLing. I was reminded by this of how much of our parenting styles we learn from our parents, for good or for ill. So we have a behavioral heritage as well as a genetic one.
The book's story-telling style is gracious and smooth-flowing, not unlike putting your hand in a warm, pristine stream in the mountains. You will feel yourself gently pulled along in a way that you will enjoy. I was reminded of the way my mother would tell me stories when I was a child.
The Bonesetter's Daughter is beautiful, delightful, and enlightening. What more could one ask for from a novel?
After you finish the book, be sure to learn all you can about your ancestors from those who are alive and knew them well. You will probably find many wonderful connections to yourself and your own issues that will help you.
This is an outstanding book for a book club to read. You will find many interesting questions for discussion here. In particular, you won't be able to decide what some of the story means until you discuss those aspects with someone.
Follow your beliefs . . . wherever they take you!
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Showing 1-1 of 1 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 4 Nov 2012 22:13:48 GMT
Greenhill says:
I didn't read this with my book club, so missed out on some interesting discussion I think! I liked your comments about ghosts and ghostwriters, which I hadn't particularly picked up on as I read. I think I'll have to read some more Amy Tan books now.
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Donald Mitchell
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