Thursday, October 12, 2006



Laura Bonds reviews THE BONESETTER'S DAUGHTER by Amy Tan (Putnam, 2001):

The Bonesetter’s Daughter tells the stories of LuLing Lin Young, an older Chinese-born woman with Alzheimer’s, and her American-born daughter, Ruth. The novel is separated into three sections: the first and final sections of the book are told from the modern-day viewpoint of Ruth, who, as we meet her, has become frustrated, confused, and resentful of her mother and her increasingly debilitating illness. Ruth is afraid LuLing’s dementia has caused her mother to create her own realities and distort her recollections of the past and will prevent Ruth from ever knowing the family from which she came. That is, until Ruth discovers LuLing’s memoirs of her life as a girl in China and is transported to the rural village of Immortal Heart. In translating her mother’s writings from LuLing’s native Chinese, Ruth unearths the heredity and history of her family, along with the spirit and myth that influenced her mother and shaped the woman she became as well as the daughter she raised.

The Bonesetter’s Daughter is a densely written book in a deliberate, measured style. The storyline is very character-driven, especially in the first section of the book that introduces Ruth and her mother. Amy Tan has created clear, well-developed characters in these two women, which makes it easy for the reader to be completely drawn into their lives and the connections they are desperately trying to make with each other. The bulk of the novel is comprised of LuLing’s written account of her life growing up in rural early 20th century China. The author alludes to world events going on at the time, but in the context of their impact on LuLing’s small village and its inhabitants. Tan’s descriptive style is colorful and detailed, and her language is graceful. This not only brings the China of LuLing’s childhood vividly to the reader, it enlivens the evocative, sometimes bittersweet tone created throughout the book.

In recent years, I have been drawn to Asian culture and the Asian experience in America, and I have always been interested in writing that explores the intricate and complicated relationships between mothers and daughters. Surprisingly, I had not previously read any of Amy Tan’s novels prior to picking up The Bonesetter’s Daughter, but had understood Tan as an author whose work is immersed in Asian-American women’s experiences and perspectives. As I expected, I was impressed and satisfied with what I had read. Amy Tan’s sincerity, poetic use of language, and willingness to explore the differences in beliefs, culture, and traditions between people, especially women, has made her an author whose entire collection I look forward to reading.

Laura Bonds, Circulation Department

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Another good book about the Asian experience in America is Robert Olen Butler's A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain. If you haven't read it, I strongly suggest it!
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