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The bonesetter's daughter by Amy Tan

The bonesetter's daughter (original 2001; edition 2001)

by Amy Tan

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5,84183724 (3.76)114
Title:The bonesetter's daughter
Authors:Amy Tan
Info:New York : Ballantine Books, 2002, c2001.
Collections:Your library

Work details

The Bonesetter's Daughter by Amy Tan (2001)

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English (78)  Spanish (2)  Catalan (1)  French (1)  Italian (1)  All languages (83)
Showing 1-5 of 78 (next | show all)
I packed a few books to read during my vacation and found this one in my suitcase from last year's vacation---unread. So I kept it there, thinking I couldn't possibly ever get to it this year. But I ended up in the hospital for days and had plenty of time to read it! Fate!
I devoured it in two days, as it was difficult to put down for a minute! As with all Amy Tan novels, I tear through hungrily, only stopping occasionally to ponder the web of connections she makes, and then I end up crying and satisfied. I'm always more into my mother afterward! So this novel helped me appreciate family more--appropriate for a vacation for a family reunion! ( )
  engpunk77 | Aug 14, 2015 |
A tip top tale of superstition and sadness across three generations of mothers and daughters.
The book is essentially in three acts. The opening third deals with Ruth’s relationship with her ageing and crotchety-with-it mother. I suppose for the story to have drama, the relationship between mother and daughter has to have tension and in this case it’s the conventional tension of a mother driving her daughter crazy. It’s deftly handled, to the point where any child that has ever been exasperated by their parent will be thinking ‘if I wanted to experience annoyance at a pensioner behaving badly, I’d pick up the ‘phone, not bloody read about it/is this supposed to be entertaining?/I really must ‘phone’ mum’ simultaneously.
The second act is by far the most interesting. Ruth’s mother, originally from a small village in China before emigrating to America, has written a memoir, in Chinese. Ruth must get it translated to understand it, a task she is no hurry to do, because she doesn’t know what’s in it as her mother, infuriatingly, has neglected to write ‘The Big Scroll Of Family Secrets’ on the front in clear English.
The third act is the direct result of the translation of the scroll, which reveals Ruth’s mother in a new light, clears up issues of ancestry and family, and opens up new opportunities.
The first and third acts have their moments, Ruth is juggling a cantankerous, ageing mother with a feckless boyfriend and his two bratty daughters by a previous marriage. She’s also a ghost writer of self help books, presumably working for people who have plenty of advice for others, but have never gone past their own books at the store and picked up a copy of ‘how to write’. At the same time, she’s trying to live in two worlds, modern day America and the tradition, ritual and superstition-laden world her older relatives have carried all the way from China in their heads.
Having said that, if you suffered as much as the people back in China, you’d probably blame it on evil spirits too. The bastards.
Ruth’s mother’s memoir tells of her time in a tiny rural village in China. Ruth’s grandmother and mother lived in a time before the Cultural Revolution and, judging from the description of life, before the Industrial Revolution too. The family are inkmakers, grinding up charcoal and soot and various other black stuff (no colours mentioned, guess ‘Crayola’ is not a Chinese name) to make fabulous ink sticks used by scholars to make their ink. This is not the ink that fills the ball point pen that is used to write out shopping lists, this is the ink that scholars and the better sort of poet take time to prepare, to dip their brush into and then, only when they have carefully considered the phrase or word required, to commit to paper in strong, dark, everlasting strokes.
Ruth’s grandmother has rather a rough time of things, and not just because she lives in a village where the most advanced technology is the cart used to take the locally produced medicines (that is, snakes) into the city. Naturally, her own daughter, Ruth’s mother, is sulky and resentful. Ruth herself has something of a rough time of things, thanks in part to the legacy of her mother’s misfortune, but mostly due to international conflict and internal revolution.
By the time one reaches the last act of the book, past all the breathless stuff of a flight from China to Hong Kong and then on to America, one realises that this is actually a story of some charm. The unlocking of secrets is key, superstitions that might seem quaint in modern day America are revealed as perfectly understandable in a village where life is tough and fortune really can appear to be whim of the gods.
This is a story that crosses cultures and continents as well as generations. The mother becomes the daughter as the exasperating parent’s childhood is revealed. Cultures and continents may change, but the mother daughter relationship, it would appear, is constant. There is deep love in the relationships here, but the real joy is the revelations that lead to reverence. ( )
  macnabbs | Aug 13, 2015 |
3.5 stars

Chinese-American Ruth is sometimes annoyed by her always-complaining immigrant mother, LuLing. It is tough on everyone, though, when LuLing is diagnosed with dementia. The story goes back in time to Ruth growing up, as well as further back to LuLing growing up in China and making her way to the U.S.

The story is told from both Ruth's point of view and LuLing's. I preferred Ruth's story/point of view/modern day to LuLing's, but LuLing's story got more interesting as it went on (though, listening to the audio, I missed some of start of LuLing's story just due to losing focus). And that name, “Precious Auntie”, drove me nuts! Silly thing, but it just grated on my nerves! But really, overall, I did enjoy the book. I just couldn't rate it as high as 4 stars due to my lack of interest at the start of LuLing's story. ( )
  LibraryCin | Apr 10, 2015 |
“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.”

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). ( )
  readingwithtea | Oct 19, 2014 |
Even better than THE JOY LUCK CLUB, and I didn't think that was possible. ( )
  dickmanikowski | Aug 22, 2014 |
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» Add other authors (37 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Amy Tanprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Abelsen, PeterTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Alfsen, MereteTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Chen, JoanNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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On the last day that my mother spent on earth, I learned her real name, as well at that of my grandmother. This book is dedicated to them. Li Bingzi and Gu Jingmei
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These are the things I know are true:
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Synopsis for the Dutch edition:
"Wat zou er nog meer in het binnenste van de leunstoel liggen? Ze tastte rond en vond een pakket van bruin inpakpapier, omwonden met een rood kerstlint. Er zat een stapel papier in, met Chinese tekst. Sommige vellen hadden bovenaan een zwierig gekalligrafeerd karakter. Dit had ze al eens eerder gezien. Maar waar?' Als Ruth het huis van haar moeder opruimt, vindt ze een manuscript onder de zitting van een oude stoel. Haar moeder heeft nooit iets losgelaten over haar Chinese verleden, over haar voorouders en over de reden van haar plotselinge vertrek naar Amerika. Maar nu blijkt Ruth het zorgvuldig opgetekende levensverhaal van haar moeder in handen te hebben. Al lezend leert ze haar eindelijk kennen."
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0345457374, Paperback)

At the beginning of Amy Tan's fourth novel, two packets of papers written in Chinese calligraphy fall into the hands of Ruth Young. One bundle is titled Things I Know Are True and the other, Things I Must Not Forget. The author? That would be the protagonist's mother, LuLing, who has been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. In these documents the elderly matriarch, born in China in 1916, has set down a record of her birth and family history, determined to keep the facts from vanishing as her mind deteriorates.

A San Francisco career woman who makes her living by ghostwriting self-help books, Ruth has little idea of her mother's past or true identity. What's more, their relationship has tended to be an angry one. Still, Ruth recognizes the onset of LuLing's decline--along with her own remorse over past rancor--and hires a translator to decipher the packets. She also resolves to "ask her mother to tell her about her life. For once, she would ask. She would listen. She would sit down and not be in a hurry or have anything else to do."

Framed at either end by Ruth's chapters, the central portion of The Bonesetter's Daughter takes place in China in the remote, mountainous region where anthropologists discovered Peking Man in the 1920s. Here superstition and tradition rule over a succession of tiny villages. And here LuLing grows up under the watchful eye of her hideously scarred nursemaid, Precious Auntie. As she makes clear, it's not an enviable setting:

I noticed the ripe stench of a pig pasture, the pockmarked land dug up by dragon-bone dream-seekers, the holes in the walls, the mud by the wells, the dustiness of the unpaved roads. I saw how all the women we passed, young and old, had the same bland face, sleepy eyes that were mirrors of their sleepy minds.
Nor is rural isolation the worst of it. LuLing's family, a clan of ink makers, believes itself cursed by its connection to a local doctor, who cooks up his potions and remedies from human bones. And indeed, a great deal of bad luck befalls the narrator and her sister GaoLing before they can finally engineer their escape from China. Along the way, familial squabbles erupt around every corner, particularly among mothers, daughters, and sisters. And as she did in her earlier The Joy Luck Club, Amy Tan uses these conflicts to explore the intricate dynamic that exists between first-generation Americans and their immigrant elders. --Victoria Jenkins

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:19:54 -0400)

(see all 8 descriptions)

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 headsrong 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.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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