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The Joy Luck Club - Amy Tan

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Author: Amy Tan / Format: Paperback / Date of publication: 24 June 1991 / Genre: Modern & Contemporary Fiction / Publisher: Vintage / Title: The Joy Luck Club / ISBN 13: 9780749399573 / ISBN 10: 0749399573

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      08.02.2011 12:17
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      Like mother, like daughter, no matter how different they are

      Love, war, broken and forced marriages bound four Chinese women who decided to have a new life in the USA. Seems like all is well when you get your American dream, but the past knows no boundaries, cultural or geographical. And so the sad stories of four missfortunate women reveal at a mahjong game at a mourning of one of them.
      Suyuan Woo, at who's mourning the story beggins, had to leave her twin daughters by the road during a Japanese invasion in China. The whole in her heart couldn't be filled with the birth of her "american" daughter Jing-mei so Suyuan allways tried to fill it with high expectations for Jing-mei, telling her she could be anything she wishes. An always demanding mother is hard to please when you feel you're a "never-good-enough-daughter" so Jing-mei allways felt missunderstood. Only at the end of the novel, as she finds out that her half-sisters are alive, Jing-mei realises that her mother actually loved her too much because she didn't get a chance to love her other children at all. Jing-mei relizes that her and her mother's life were actually quite similar- as one was looking for the approval of her mother, the other was looking for forgiveness from her children, both needing love as a compass in their lives. Suyuan's grief was Jing-mei's grief but they payed off when the sisters finally met in China.
      An-Mei Hsu was raised by her grandparents since her mother became a concubine and a Fourth wife to a man called Wu-Tsing's. As her mother comes to take her away one day An-Mei finds out her mother was actually raped and had to become a lover to her rapist. Young An-Mei, at her tender age, whitnesses the dark side of her mother's marriage and becomes rebelious towards the other wives in order to "revenge" her mother and show that such a marriage will never be forced upon her. When she tells her story to her daughter Rose, a servile wife of a doctor who decides to leave her, Rose gets courage to face her husband with pride and cheek she never had during her marriage. Once again, one mother's pain becomes a daughter's joy.
      Lindo Jong was forced into marriage with a boy from the neighbourhood when she was only 16. Stronheaded and proud, she found a way to trick her mother-in-law believing the grandchild she would give her would bring bad luck since a servant of the house was already pregnant with her husband's spiritual child. Fleeing to USA Lido gives birth to her daughter Waverly, who she constantly critisies for losing connections to her Chinese heritage. Still, through that criticism Waverly inherited the most important heritage- her mother's feisty character.
      Ying-Ying, a seemingly meek young girl married a passionate and abusive man named Lin Xiao. In order to retain some dignity and satisfaction for all the affairs her husband had, Ying-Ying has an abortion when she finds out she's carrying his child. Coming to America, she gives birth to Lena, but due to an abusive marriage and an abortion she cannot openly express her motherly feelings. When Lena ends up in a marriage similar to Ying-Ying's a mother will tell her story in order to give her daughter strenght to brake free as well.
      So, do our mothers try to prevent their daughters from making the same mistakes? They do. Do we end up making them anyway? We certainly do. Why? Because we are our mothers' daughters. And raising us is not an easy thing knowing that, in the end, the biggest and the toughest 'mistake' in bringing us up is passing us a bit of their character.

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        31.03.2010 16:16
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        A confusing but interesting read!

        This is the third book I've read by Amy Tan and was looking forward to it, having enjoyed the previous two, which were "The Bonesetters Daughter" and "The Kitchen God Wife." All three books have a had a similar theme in that there is conflict between a Chinese mother and their Chinese-American daughter. However unlike the previous books I read, rather than focus on one mother and one daughter, this book focuses upon four women and their daughters.

        The book is set in modern day San Fransisco, and the first character we are introduced to is Jing-Mei Woo, who has been invited to join the Joy Luck Club after the death of her mother. The group consists of eight people - all couples until Jing-Mei's mothers death - who meet regularly to play mah-jong, eat and gossip. Jing-Mei is not keen on joining - being a western woman she does not see the same need to continue with traditions as her older relations do - but for the sake of her mother's memory and her grieving father, she decides to go along. It is at this meeting that her three "aunties" give her a gift and ask her to fulfil one of her late mother's wishes.

        However rather than go on to show what Jing-Mei does next, the book then jumps to the point of view and story of another character. It continues in this manner for the rest of the book, which is divided into four sections with four chapters each. Each mother and daughter has two chapters, except Jing-Mei Woo who has four, as there are none form the point of view of her mother. This book doesn't follow a plot as such. It is more like snapshots of each person's lives, as they were when they were young and as they are now, and like Ms Tan's other books they highlight the differences between the generations and allow us an insight into a very different culture.

        The daughters deal with issues such as their mother's desperation to turn them into child prodigies, deaths of siblings and the dread of telling their parents that they divorcing or co-habiting with a new partner. In order to give us a further insight to the cultural differences, these issues are also mentioned in the mother's chapters, so we get to see their take on it. However the issues that the mothers faced in childhood and early adulthood are somewhat different to those faced by their daughters - one has to flee the Japanese and loses everything as a result. Another uses deceit to escape an unhappy marriage, another has to leave her family to live with her concubine mother and the fourth is rich and spoilt and has to learn the hard way not to take things for granted.

        The final chapters from the mother's point of view show us that they understand and relate to their daughters more than their daughters realise and despite the many differences between them, there are similarities there aswell. Reading about their past helps us to see how they became the way they are and why their daughters perceive them in a certain way.

        I love reading about Chinese culture so I found the detail in the book interesting. There are moving moments and although each character only has a couple of chapters I felt that I got to know a lot about each one individually, although I felt I knew Jing-Mei better than the others, probably as she has more chapters. I also found her the most likeable. However I did get confused at times as to who was speaking and who was who's daughter or mother, so frequently had to refer to the note in the front of the book to confirm! Also, as this is the third book I've read by Ms Tan I am beginning to find them a bit same-y, although to be fair what she does is brilliant. As with her other books this book beautifully illustrates mother-daughter relationships. This was also Ms Tan's first novel, something I only recently discovered. It is testament to her writing skills to say that there is nothing about this book that screams" first novel!" as it is often the case that even the most renowned author improves with each publication. However I do think that her later books have a clearer sense of story about them; this book could almost be read as a collection of short stories rather than a novel.

        This is a short read, at 288 pages, and although an enjoyable read it wasn't my favourite by this author. It's an international best seller which to be honest surprises me as its good but not that good. If you enjoy books about Chinese culture, cultural differences or mother-daughter relationships then you'll like this, but I would recommend "The Bonesetters Daughter" or "The Kitchen God's Wife" as a more satisfying read.

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          13.10.2009 12:41
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          Good stories, linked together but I felt let down at the end, wanted more

          Amy Tan was born in California but her parents were Chinese immigrants. She started writing short stories in 1985 and drew on her Chinese background and the experiences her family had been through in China.

          The Joy Luck Club is a set of sixteen tales about four Chinese mothers and their Chinese - American daughters. Their stories interlock to give the book continuity. One or two stories were published in magazines but the complete volume quickly became a best seller when it was published in 1989.

          This book is often called a 'novel' but much of it is based on fact and actual incidents. The contrasting worlds of modern America and old China are brought sharply into focus by the tales told around a mah-jong table and in the mother's memories and attempts to understand the modern world around her.

          The ancient game of mah-jong plays a major part in holding the stories together. It is a social game which was banned in China in 1949 under the communist regime as it was considered gambling and therefore a capitalist pursuit.

          We are left in doubt about the gambling as the session around the table unfold. The title of the book comes from the name of the mah-jong club that the four mothers form: 'The Joy Luck Club'.

          Personally I thought this was a very cleverly put together group of stories which were given a common thread by way of the mah-jong table.

          It is a very moving book at time but also has a tinge of humour in parts. There is a lot of sadness over what has passed but not so much that it makes it heavy reading.

          The book itself is quite short at just 288 pages and I must admit that I would have liked to read more.

          It was a bit difficult at times to remember who was speaking, or telling a tale but that may well have been down to lack of concentration on my part, rather than a fault in the structure of the book.

          An enjoyable read and certainly something I would recommend to others. The fact that I wanted more says it all.

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            25.10.2004 15:07
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            This book is about four Chinese mothers, born in the first decades of the 20th century, and their four daughters who were born in America shortly after World War II.

            The book opens with Jing-Mei Woo - who is now in her thirties - being invited by her father to join the 'Joy Luck Club' shortly after the death of her mother. This is a group of eight Chinese people which meets to play mah-jong, to raise money, and to gossip. Jing-Mei doesn't really want to join with these older people - her father, and three sets of honourary aunts and uncles, but does so for the sake of her mother's memory. After eating a meal, playing a game, and remembering some incidents in her past, she's given a surprise gift.

            This was a promising start to the book, and I was eager to know what Jing-Mei would do after receiving this gift. However the next chapter is written from the perspective of one of the other women in the Joy Luck Club, An-Mei Hsu, flashing back to her childhood. Again it's interesting, but I found myself feeling slightly bewildered by the contrast. Here we learn about An-Mei's unhappy past; she was abandoned by her mother, and brought up by her strict grandmother and other relatives. It's a short chapter, and recounts a painful incident which led to a lifelong scar on An-Mei's neck.

            ~~ Structure of the book ~~

            This change of perspective continues throughout. The book has four distinct sections, each of which has four chapters. The first and last sections are devoted to the mothers, the middle two sections to the daughters. The exception is Jing-Mei who has a chapter in each section. It's not until the final chapter of the book that time moves forward again, and we learn what she does with her gift.

            There isn't a great deal of plot. Instead we see, through flashbacks alternating with the present, incidents from the childhoods of each of the seven women concerned. The four mothers had very different backgrounds: one was from an extremely wealthy Chinese family, but she took her riches for granted. Another grew up rather devious and manipulative. An-Mei grew up indecisive, always wanting other people to make decisions for her. Jing-Mei's mother had to escape the invading Japanese, and lost everything as a result.

            Each of the mothers ends up in America in early adulthood, so their daughters are raised as Chinese-Americans. Inevitably there are cultural clashes, and the daughters struggle to come to terms with their identities, clashing at times with what they perceive as the old-fashioned natures of their parents, and the demands of Chinese culture.

            Part Two of the book shows incidents from the childhood of each of the four daughters, and part Three shows them as young adults, struggling with their relationships to non-Chinese Americans, making mistakes which their mothers watch with pain and inevitable misunderstandings. Ironically, despite being brought up quite differently from the way their mothers were brought up, each of the daughters shows remarkably similarities of character to her mother.

            Part Four returns to the three mothers for their perspectives on their adult children's lives and loves. They see themselves reflected in their daughters, and their daughters begin to understand them better. Then the final chapter is Jing-Mei's again, moving forward at last.

            ~~ The packaging! ~~

            This isn't the kind of book I would usually read. I prefer historical romances, or family sagas - the kind of books that generally come with a white or pastel cover. My copy of 'The Joy Luck Club' is mainly black, like a thriller; I picked it up at a jumble sale when I was thinking about experimenting with reading some different fiction. Recent publishers have given it a scarlet cover, like a scandalous modern novel. But in a way it's more like a family saga than either a thriller or chick-lit, except that it covers the lives of four families rather than one. Had it been just one family, with more incidents, I'd probably have enjoyed it more.

            As it was, every time I started a new chapter, I had to look at the contents list, to remind myself whose mother (or daughter) this character was. By the time I was half-way through, I started thinking of it as a book of short stories, and that helped. Each chapter was almost complete in itself, and could be read that way, so once I'd stopped looking for connections, it made more sense. I saw the connections as I got to the end, although I still don't remember which family was which without checking!

            The front cover rather intrigued me, saying the book was 'hilarious' and 'moving'. Hilarious? There were certainly a few places that made me smile in mild amusement. Mostly they were to do with cultural misunderstandings. But I felt the humour was bittersweet; it's all too easy to make mistakes living out of one's own culture. When the daughters were ridiculing their mother's traditions and customs, I didn't find it funny at all, but sad, from the perspectives of both.

            As for 'moving': well, once I'd gathered the overall concept of the book - the division and reconciliation of mothers and daughters, the gradual merging of the cultures - I suppose it could be described that way. Certain incidents within the book were somewhat emotional, although none of them moved me to tears. I think the reason for this is that it was so confusing to read, even though after finishing it I can better see the big picture.

            ~~ Conclusions ~~

            'The Joy Luck Club' is apparently an international bestseller, so clearly I'm missing something that other people enjoy. Indeed, by the time I got to the final chapter, I'd almost forgotten what it was that interested me at the beginning. It wasn't as if I read it over several weeks, either: it's not a long book, under 300 pages. Once I'd started, I tried to read a chapter or two every time I sat down, so I finished it in just over two days. If I hadn't, I'd probably have put it aside and never got to the end.

            Still, there was nothing I specially disliked about the book. I won't be returning it to the next jumble sale; I expect my younger son will read it some time since he's an avid reader of almost anything, and I might even dip into it again myself one day. If I do, though, I shall probably read it in a different order from the way it's written. I'll take one family at a time and read through all their chapters.

            So - all things considered - I'm giving it three stars. It was well-written, and I expect it gives some useful cultural background for people who have never lived outside their community. Perhaps when it was written (1989 in America) there was even more insularity in the USA than there is now, and this book could have helped bridge some gaps, helping ordinary white Americans to understand better those of Chinese and other descent. For me, growing up in multi-cultural Birmingham, and now living in Cyprus, it seemed - well, rather ordinary. Call me a philistine if you wish, but it's not a book I'd choose to buy new.

            For anyone interested in Chinese Americans, or indeed any cross-cultural issues, I'd recommend it in a low-key way when you have a few days spare and nothing better to read. I understand a film was made of this book; perhaps it's one of the few books that would be better in movie form, since it would give a clear pictorial image of what the author - herself a Chinese American - wanted to convey.

            Re-printed many times, it's now published in paperback by Vintage, and is available at Amazon for £5.59. They also have several copies of the old Minerva Press edition (the black one) for considerably less. It's the kind of book that often seems to turn up in charity shops and jumble sales, and I expect libraries stock it.

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              19.04.2004 17:53
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              At the moment, I have a passion for reading novels set in cultures different from my own. They provide me with such a different experience and perspective to think from that I find them addictive. This is why I picked up ?The Joy Luck Club? by Amy Tan for £1.00 in a charity shop (where else?). I was unaware that she wasn?t just a one-off author and has in fact written other novels, amongst them ?The Bone-setter?s Daughter.? This book, ?The Joy Luck Club? published in 1989 won The National Book Aware and L.A Times Book Award, also in 1989. The book begins by introducing us to Jing-Mei Woo and the Joy Luck Club. This is a club where a group of old friends go to play mah-jongg and to discuss their lives with each other. Jing-Mei is asked to take her mother?s place at the table after she dies. Once there, she listens to the women as they ask her to do one last favour for her mother. This involves travelling to China to find the twin daughters her mother lost many years ago. ?It is Auntie Ying who finally speaks. ?I think your mother die with an important thought on her mind,? she says in halting English.? (P.38) After this beginning, I was expecting it to carry on in the usual manner of a novel ? logical, continuous manner with a strong thread of plot running through it. Instead, the book deals with seven of the eight Chinese women and instead of a single plot, it dips into their lives at various points: the childhoods of the mothers and their efforts to get to used to the American way of life and the childhoods of the daughters and their attempts to merge their Chinese background with their American surroundings. It is fairly logical and ordered in how these ?extracts of life? are organised, but it meant that apart from Jing-Mei?s story, there is no single plot within it. One woman tells of her childhood as a chess genius; another of how her mother wanted her to be famous no matter what; a childhood spent in the household
              where her mother was a concubine; moving to America; marriage; having children and losing children; there is a broad range of experiences within these women and we are treated to brief excerpts from them all. On the face of it, that seems like it would make for a frustrating read, as most of us are so used to a natural progression within our books. Actually, I found it quite a refreshing read ? the point of the book wasn?t that something happened, but that we found out about these women and how they coped with the conflict between the two cultures they existed within. ?In me, they see their own daughters, just as ignorant, just as unmindful of all the truths and hopes they have brought to America. They see daughters who grow impatient when their mothers talk in Chinese, who think they are stupid why they explain things in fractured English.? (P.40-41) The language is quite similar to other books with a Chinese author/influence, such as ?Memoirs of a Geisha? and ?Wild Swans.? There is a lot of symbolism and beautiful phrases to describe things, which might seem a little odd to Western eyes and ears but they provide a little bit of exoticism within the reading and gives me the impression that the Chinese language in itself is very striking and spiritual. ? ?An ancestor of ours once stole water from a sacred well. Now the water is trying to steal back. We must sweeten the temper of the Coiling Dragon who lives in the sea. And then we must make him loosen his coils from Bing by giving him another treasure he can hide.?? (P.129) It is a fairly short book at 288 pages, but within this I gained quite a good mental picture of what each woman was like: her attitude, personality, experiences. It may have been a bit confusing at first to remember who each person was, but this was helped by the name of the author of each section and a table in the front of the mothers and their daughters. It finished in a similar place to whe
              re it started, with Jing-Mei in China searching for her long-lost half-sisters. It was slightly annoying that I never found out what happened to the other women within the story in a definite ending, but each woman seemed to arrive at a point where she could continue on her with life, either getting happier and stronger or just coping with what she had. I don?t actually have any major criticisms of the book or a single reason why I?m not going to award it 5 or even 4 stars. I think I?ll give it 3 with a recommendation to read because it is an enjoyable book but it isn?t the best I?ve ever read within the genre or the most exciting. It is a simple, pleasant book that took me a day to read and again has given me something different to think about. Do not approach the book expecting a strong plot and earth-shattering events and you won?t be disappointed, though obviously I read it with little expectations and quite enjoyed it. I think individual readers will enjoy it in different way. *** About the Author *** Amy Tan was born in 1952 in Oakland, California. She graduated from high school in Switzerland then received her master?s degree in Linguistics from San Jose State University. Her parents moved to America to escape civil war in China. The story of her mother?s early life inspired one of Amy?s novels ?The Kitchen God?s Wife.? Her other novels include ?The Hundred Secret Senses? and ?The Bonesetter?s Daughter.? ?The Joy Luck Club? has also been made into a film, which I haven?t yet seen but would love to after reading the book. Thanks to: http://www.luminarium.org/contemporary/amytan/ for providing this information. Available from amazon.com for £5.59 and the usual bargain prices on Ebay. ISBN No. 0-7493-9957-0

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                14.07.2000 06:59
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                Amy Tan is one of my favourite authors. She has a slightly different style of writing (cant explain it but there is something different about it) but it gets to me every single time I pick up one of her books. The Joy luck club is her first book and it is a great book. She follows the lives of 4 women and their daughters first the mothers then the daughters and how their life inter act with each other. All of the women being Chineese and "now" living in America. The Joy luck club makes you laugh, cry, angry and sad. It is a all in all BRILLIANT book and I would reccommend it VERY highly. (as I would all her other books) Only "problem" I forsee is that you will jump out to buy/borrow her other books ;o)

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