Back in high school I read an excerpt from one of Amy Tan’s books in my English textbook. I can’t recall what the excerpt was from, but I enjoyed it a lot and from then on when I heard Tan’s name I thought fondly of her writing. Years later I finally picked up one of her novels and I’m happy to say that I enjoyed it.
Ruth is of Chinese decent, but she is very Americanized. Her relationship with her very Chinese mother,LuLing, has always been tenuous. When LuLing shows signs of dementia Ruth finds herself having to come to terms with many things in her life like her feelings for her mother and boyfriend, her job, and especially her ancestry. Is LuLing mis-remembering her own past or has she been hiding secrets from everyone all this time?
This is a very beautiful and heartfelt story about mothers and daughters, but it is very characters driven. Ruth is obviously an important character, but the majority of the book (maybe just slightly over half?) is LuLing recounting her life from childhood. LuLing’s story evokes an array of emotions and gives readers a heavy dose of Chinese culture, but I can see how it might bore some readers. For what it’s worth, I gave the book three out of five stars on Goodreads because it was a little too slow in some parts, but your mileage may vary.
I like Ruth because I can sympathize with her a lot and by the end of the novel she grows. LuLing is a great character and the star of the show. I love seeing her change throughout the story of her past and then see her in the novel’s current timeline. The characters in China feel exotic to me as an American, but it is still easy to relate to them. Tan is able to give readers a wonderful window into the culture without alienating those unfamiliar with it. LuLing’s beliefs and superstitions are different from what I am used to and yet I can see so many similarities between her and elders in my own family.
I’ve heard others say that this isn’t Tan’s best work, but I cannot give an opinion on that claim. I enjoyed the novel and I can’t wait to read more from her.