Classics Club: The Joy Luck Club

Joy

  • Author: Amy Tan

I bought The Joy Luck Club years ago at a used bookstore, but it took joining the Classics Club for me to finally get around to reading it.  Doing a read-along certainly didn’t hurt either.

I think this book is perfect for read-alongs, book clubs, and college courses because it should be read a little chunk at a time and discussed in detail.  There are so many emotions and ideas to process throughout the stories of the four mothers and daughters that I think trying to read the book quickly wouldn’t allow the time and space needed to dig in deep.  I also think anyone reading this book should be prepared to want to learn more about China’s history and culture.  What little I already knew was not enough, and The Joy Luck Club prodded me to go in search of that knowledge.

What makes this book one of the top pieces of literary fiction is even when you think Chinese culture is so very different that no one but the Chinese could possibly understand, the struggles that occur between mothers and daughters is relatable no matter where you come from in the world.  Am I an expert on Chinese familial relationships?  Not a chance.  Did I see my mother and myself in those pages?  All the time.  Amy Tan somehow combines uncomfortable unfamiliarity with the feeling of looking in a mirror.  She even has the characters experience this same interchange of emotions as they find themselves realizing how different and yet how similar they are to each other.  She also turns myth into reality and vice versa.  Somehow she manages all this within the structure of a mahjong game.  At the end of every chapter, I would pause for a moment to let what I had read sink in and allow myself to feel astounded.  For once, I can safely say that this is a book everyone should read.

The Joy Luck Club Read-Along: Week 6 Recap

Joy

Welcome to the 6th weekly recap of The Joy Luck Club read-along!  Next Saturday, Oct. 24th, I will be posting a review of the whole book.

This week, we read two chapters, each about one of the mothers.  I don’t like Ying-ying St. Clair.  Out of all the mothers, I think she’s the worst.

[Spoilers] I think she was a spoiled brat as a child, and though she doesn’t say that outright, she does admit to being very vain.  I want to feel sympathy for her that her first husband was a horrible man and abandoned her to run off with some other woman.  I want to cry for her that she aborted her baby.  However, I don’t feel anything for her except dislike.  I don’t hate her.  I just think she’s a sour emotionless woman that doesn’t care about anyone and is only full of negativity about everything.  I feel the opposite for An-mei Hsu: “…I was raised the Chinese way: I was taught to desire nothing, to swallow other people’s misery, to eat my own bitterness.”   She at least understands how she tried to raise her daughter differently, but she only has the tools that she learned from her mother, who learned them from her mother, etc.  Reading her words about how Rose turned out the same way despite her efforts gave me space and permission to forgive my mother and my grandmother.  While I know now that forgiveness doesn’t mean I have to allow either of them to be in my life, it does mean I can let go of the anger and confusion.  At least some of it anyway.  I know it’s a work in progress.  While I don’t know for sure if An-mei knows how close Rose was to ending her life as An-mei’s mother did, perhaps she does suspect it.  I think An-mei is the wisest about her daughter than any of the other mothers are about theirs.  [End Spoilers]

What do you think of Ying-ying?  An-mei?  Comment away!  Just be sure to mark clearly any spoilers 🙂

The Joy Luck Club Read-Along: Week 5 Recap

Joy

Welcome to the 5th weekly recap of The Joy Luck Club read-along!  Below is the schedule.  Each Saturday I’ll post a recap (with clearly marked spoilers for those who get a little behind).  The final review of the book will be on Saturday, October 24th.

This week, we read three chapters, each about one of the daughters.  So many feelings.  I’m not exactly sure where to start…

[Spoilers] So I’ll begin with Waverly Jong and her mom, Lindo.  “You don’t know my mother,” I said.  She never thinks anybody is good enough for anything.”  I was right there with Waverly until she and Lindo come to some bizarre understanding of each other.  I feel that, had I read this a few years ago, I would have believed that my mom and I had had one of those moments, and everything was better afterward.  We didn’t and it wasn’t, and so I’m skeptical about Waverly and Lindo having a better mother-daughter relationship.  I don’t think that much emotional damage and negativity can be fixed so easily.  I’m happy that Rose is finally taking back control of her life.  I know what it’s like to be in a relationship in which one person slowly gives up control of the decisions little bit by little bit until the other person is making all the choices.  My Ex came to see it as his right to decide on things without consulting me.  When I finally woke up to reality, my life was in shambles, and I don’t even know when he stopped caring.  It was a long process to put everything back together again, but, like Rose, it was exhilarating to be back in the driver’s seat.  I think Jing-mei has a long way to go before she comes into her own and gains back her self-esteem.  The hurtful words that come out of Waverly’s mouth during the Chinese New Year dinner make me like her a little less, but I can’t help think she learned her spitefulness from her mother.  [End Spoilers]

What do you think?  Comment away!  Just be sure to mark clearly any spoilers 🙂

The Joy Luck Club Read-Along: Week 4 Recap

Joy

Welcome to the 4th weekly recap of The Joy Luck Club read-along!  Below is the schedule.  Each Saturday I’ll post a recap (with clearly marked spoilers for those who get a little behind).  The final review of the book will be on Saturday, October 24th.

This week, we read two chapters, each about one of the daughters.  I’m feeling a mixture of anger and sadness; anger towards the mothers, and sadness for the daughters.

[Spoilers] This week’s chapters brought up a lot of memories from my childhood, and also some troubling impressions of Chinese culture.  First, with Jing-mei, all I could think of was how I felt growing up and believing that I was never good enough in my Mom’s eyes.  The following quote says it all: “In all of my imaginings, I was filled with a sense that I would soon become perfect.  My mother and father would adore me.  I would be beyond reproach.  I would never feel the need to sulk for anything.  But sometimes the prodigy in me became impatient.  ‘If you don’t hurry up and get me out of here, I’m disappearing for good, ‘ it warned.  ‘And then you’ll always be nothing.'”   And how many times did I hear my Mom say what Jing-mei’s says: “So ungrateful.”?  As far as culture goes, what I’ve noticed, but couldn’t put into words prior to this, is that it seems like everything is expressed in negative terms.  The mothers brag about their children by complaining, and, in the next chapter, Lena’s Mom only ever predicts things that will go wrong.  I get that bragging and pridefulness aren’t good, but only thinking of things in terms of what is missing is no way to live.  [End Spoilers]

What do you think?  Comment away!  Just be sure to mark clearly any spoilers 🙂

The Joy Luck Club Read-Along: Week 3 Recap

Joy

Welcome to the 3rd weekly recap of The Joy Luck Club read-along!  Below is the schedule.  Each Saturday I’ll post a recap (with clearly marked spoilers for those who get a little behind).  The final review of the book will be on Saturday, October 24th.

This week, we read three chapters, each about one of the daughters.  I think I should have looked a little more closely at the way the book is organized before I wrote up the schedule since the four daughters’ chapters are split up between this week and next.  Oh well.  Once again, I found myself marking quite a few pages that I felt were key to understanding these women’s lives.  It’s interesting to get the daughters’ perspectives.

[Spoilers] This week’s chapters weren’t nearly as emotionally devastating as the last two weeks, except for “Half and Half”.  Guilt over the death of her younger brother, Bing, is a heavy burden to carry around, and I can see how it could eventually lead to Rose not making any decisions.  Her mother’s loss of faith was what got me, though, and I think it shows the difference in how the Chinese view religious worship.  What hit me so hard was An-mei’s lack of anger or feeling betrayed.  It was as if, even though she never really accepted her son’s death, she resigned herself to the idea of beings beyond her control or power deciding not to give him back.  “The Voice from the Wall” was disturbing, though, and I’m still not sure I know what happened to Ying-ying, Lena St. Clair’s mom.  What I do know is that if my mom had told me what she tells Lena about the basement, I would have had nightmares too!  I was happy for Waverly Jong and the empowerment she discovered through learning, and then excelling at, the game of chess.  I loved how part of her learning came from books she checked out from the local library.  I also appreciate that her desire to learn was spurred on and encouraged by her mom, Lindo.  If you remember from last week, Lindo was the one who cleverly figured a way out of her marriage without bringing shame to herself or her family.  I have a lot of respect for her, and I’m beginning to understand some of the comments she made towards her daughter, even though I still disagree with her some of her parenting.  [End Spoilers]

What do you think of the story so far?  Comment away!  Just be sure to mark clearly any spoilers 🙂

The Joy Luck Club Read-Along: Week 2 Recap

Joy

Welcome to the 2nd weekly recap of The Joy Luck Club read-along!  Below is the schedule.  Each Saturday I’ll post a recap (with clearly marked spoilers for those who get a little behind).  The final review of the book will be on Saturday, October 24th.

  • Sep. 7th – 12th: Chapters “The Joy Luck Club” and “Scar”
  • Sep. 13th – 19th: Chapters “The Red Candle” and “The Moon Lady”
  • Sep. 20th – 26th” Chapters “Rules of the Game”, “The Voice from the Wall”, and “Half and Half”
  • Sep. 27th – Oct. 3rd: Chapters “Two Kinds” and “Rice Husband”
  • Oct. 4th – 10th: Chapters “Four Directions”, “Without the Wood”, and “Best Quality”
  • Oct. 11th – 17th: Chapters “Magpies” and “Waiting Between the Trees”
  • Oct. 18th – 23rd: Chapters “Double Face” and “A Pair of Tickets”

This week, we read two more character, rather than action, driven chapters, “The Red Candle” and “The Moon Lady” of part one.  I’m still certain there isn’t going to be anything that isn’t essential, and in these chapters the author gave us more background and context.  I marked quite a few pages that I felt really drove home the pain and suffering these women have endured.  I asked myself again how does anyone survive what they have?  How did any girl during this time grow up without being irrevocably damaged emotionally?

[Spoilers] Chinese society doesn’t seem to be friendly or supportive of women.  I already knew that from an academic standpoint.  I also understand that it’s a collectivist culture with an emphasis on selflessness and honor, and I don’t think those are bad qualities in themselves.  However, reading the way it plays out through myths, folk tales, and even their religious beliefs is a bit unsettling.  When I read the story of the Moon Lady, I couldn’t help but think of the story of Adam and Eve.  The Moon Lady eats a peach her husband stashed away in a box, and for that she’s punished for all eternity by being trapped on the moon.  The last line she says is, “For woman is yin…the darkness within, where untempered passions lie.  And man is yang, bright truth lighting our minds.”  With a belief like that, it’s no wonder girls are brow beat into subservience and their value broken down to how well they restrain themselves from acting on their desires.  I saw this same sort of reasoning in the previous chapter as Lindo Jong did everything she could to live up to her family’s wishes.  At one point she says, “After a while, I hurt so much I didn’t feel any difference.”  She then goes on to say that she was happiest when everyone else was happy.  Another example is Ying-Ying St. Clair explaining that Amah gave up her child when her husband passed away so that she could be Ying-Ying’s nursemaid.  I’m assuming that this was Amah’s best option, and that breaks my heart.  [End Spoilers]

What do you think of the story so far?  Comment away!  Just be sure to mark clearly any spoilers 🙂

If you’d like to join in, the sign up is open until midnight!

 

The Joy Luck Club Read-Along: Week 1 Recap

Joy

Welcome to the 1st weekly recap of The Joy Luck Club read-along!  We officially started Monday, September 7th and the last day will be Friday, the 23rd of October.  Below is the schedule.  Each Saturday I’ll post a recap (with clearly marked spoilers for those who get a little behind).  The final review of the book will be on Saturday, October 24th.

  • Sep. 7th – 12th: Chapters “The Joy Luck Club” and “Scar”
  • Sep. 13th – 19th: Chapters “The Red Candle” and “The Moon Lady”
  • Sep. 20th – 26th” Chapters “Rules of the Game”, “The Voice from the Wall”, and “Half and Half”
  • Sep. 27th – Oct. 3rd: Chapters “Two Kinds” and “Rice Husband”
  • Oct. 4th – 10th: Chapters “Four Directions”, “Without the Wood”, and “Best Quality”
  • Oct. 11th – 17th: Chapters “Magpies” and “Waiting Between the Trees”
  • Oct. 18th – 23rd: Chapters “Double Face” and “A Pair of Tickets”

Before we get into this week’s chapters, here’s a bit of trivia: the book is arranged similarly to a game of Mahjong.  It has four parts that are each divided into four chapters.  Also, there are four families in the book.  Each chapter per part is from the perspective of either a mother or daughter from each family as if they’re taking their turn during a game of Mahjong.

Not a whole lot happened, action wise, in the first two chapters, “The Joy Luck Club” and “Scar” of part one.  However, what did occur was essential to the story and emotionally devastating.  I have a feeling there isn’t going to be anything that isn’t essential, but in these chapters the author gave us some background and context, and WOW!  I had to put the book down after fourteen pages, so I could process everything I was feeling.  How does anyone survive what Suyuan goes through in China?  How does anyone grow up to be a well-adjusted adult after a childhood like An-mei’s?

[Spoilers] None of my prior knowledge of China’s history prepared me for how Amy Tan depicts what the Japanese did when they invaded.  How can anyone not be affected by Suyuan’s response to her daughter’s question about the two babies after Suyuan says she lost everything during her escape?  “Your father is not my first husband.  You are not those babies.”  I was cooking pasta while I was reading, and that line made me sit down on the kitchen floor.  I don’t know how I feel about Jing-mei finding out after her mother’s death that those babies survived.  Is it somehow worse that they grew up without their mother and possibly raised in the same way An-mei was with the belief that her mother didn’t love her enough to stay?  One aspect of the mothers that I’m having difficulty with is the use of language to manipulate their daughters’ actions rather than to communicate their emotions or wishes for their daughters’ happiness.  Is it any wonder that Jing-mei constantly felt at odds with Suyuan?  Living with women whose words must be re-interpreted to get to the heart of what is really being said must be exhausting, especially when you add on the frequent switching from one language to another. [End Spoilers]

What do you think about the story so far?  Comment away!  Just be sure to mark clearly any spoilers 🙂

If you’d like to join in, sign up through the linky below with your blog, Twitter, Goodreads, etc.  The sign up will close at the end of the 2nd week, Saturday, September 19th.

 

The Joy Luck Club Read-Along

Joy

The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan is one of those Classic books that technically isn’t a Classic since it was published in 1989.  However, it was on the list of suggested books for the Classics Club, so I’m assuming it counts.  I added it to my Classics Club list because it’s a book I always meant to read.  Despite it sitting on one bookshelf after another as I moved from place to place, I never got around to it.  That changes starting Monday, September 7th.  Since I’ve been told The Joy Luck Club is one of the essential books for diversifying one’s reading life, I’m inviting all of you to join me.

Below is the schedule.  As I’ve already said, we’re starting on September 7th.  We’ll be ending Friday, October 23rd, and each Saturday I’ll post a recap (with clearly marked spoilers for those who get a little behind).  We’ll be averaging 47 pages per week.  I’ll post a final review of the book on Saturday, October 24th.

  • Sep. 7th – 12th: Chapters “The Joy Luck Club” and “Scar”
  • Sep. 13th – 19th: Chapters “The Red Candle” and “The Moon Lady”
  • Sep. 20th – 26th” Chapters “Rules of the Game”, “The Voice from the Wall”, and “Half and Half”
  • Sep. 27th – Oct. 3rd: Chapters “Two Kinds” and “Rice Husband”
  • Oct. 4th – 10th: Chapters “Four Directions”, “Without the Wood”, and “Best Quality”
  • Oct. 11th – 17th: Chapters “Magpies” and “Waiting Between the Trees”
  • Oct. 18th – 23rd: Chapters “Double Face” and “A Pair of Tickets”

If you’d like to join in, sign up through the linky with your blog, Twitter, Goodreads, etc.  The sign up will close at the end of the 2nd week, Saturday, September 19th.