Let’s backpedal a bit today, to my 2016 Reading Challenge. The category: A book you should have read in school. The book: Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club. Have you read this one? Many people have. Nonetheless, a refresh:
In 1949 four Chinese women, recent immigrants to San Francisco, begin meeting to eat dim sum, play mahjong, and talk. United in shared loss and hope, they call themselves the Joy Luck Club. With wit and wisdom, Amy Tan examines the sometimes painful, often tender, and always deep connection between these four women and their American-born daughters. As each reveals her secrets, trying to unravel the truth about her life, the strings become more tangled, more entwined.” (Via Goodreads)
I’m giving The Joy Luck Club four out of five stars.
I remember first hearing about The Joy Luck Club when I was in high school. It floated around the summer reading lists that were thrust into our hands by our English teachers at the end of the year, but I never opened it up. In college, one of my favorite professors, Ron Emerick, remarked to me how much he enjoyed it, and would like to teach it along with mahjong. Suffice to say, reading this book was long overdue.
The Joy Luck Club has the makings of a well-loved book: mother-daughter relationships, immigrant stories, historical accounts of life in China, and great writing. Because, above all else, Amy Tan can spin a beautiful story. This was my first of her books, and I’m considering reading another of hers this year for my 2017 Reading Challenge. The way that she can move back and forth through time, from narrator to narrator, is truly impressive. Her prose is beautiful and accessible, and a joy to read.
Where The Joy Luck Club falls flat for me is depth. The novel is supposed to be about hard truths and lessons passed down from mother to daughter, and about the evolution of their relationships. Unfortunately, the depth of those relationships, of those changes, just wasn’t there for me. Perhaps Tan’s writing is subtler than I like, but for that, I wasn’t able to love this book. I enjoyed it, it’s a good read, but it didn’t make a lasting impact on me, as I hoped it would. It’s a good book, yes, but for me, it’s not great.