I just finished The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan, a second reading for me. This time, I'll be discussing it with my Readers' Club.
The Club consists of women and one man all older than I. Imagine, being the youngest among intelligent, curious and highly knowledgeable folks. But, I do have an advantage in this group; I read books like a professor, they tell me. Though I try not to, in this stage of my life. I try to read books as though I were the writer. I ask myself what it took for Amy Tan to come to grips with, to sort through and select situations and characters to illuminate what was foremost on her mind.
The story is set up like a compass: four points of view, four women-mothers and respective daughters. The mothers call themselves the Joy Luck Club-playing mah jong to win and capture some wisdom together, and to share their good fortune. The name of the club is a banner for their forceful attitude toward life: they all believe that they make their own fortune now that they are in America.
We learn the story of each mother and how she came to become the woman she is at the point when the story begins, at the point when one of them, the first narrator's mother has died and the daughter is asked to take the mother's place. She also receives a tall order: to finish her mother's unfinished business, to return to China to find the daughters her mother had lost.
The themes are universal: hardship, misunderstanding, mother/daughter conflicts, regret, disappointment.
The imagery is stunning. Nature and moods and myths all intricately woven in the patterns of the winds, the flight of birds, children becoming lost to their mothers, mothers' desires for daughters to be special.
There is a sophisticated weaving of eastern and western points of view as mothers push daughters to acquire practices to insure happiness; and daughters reject what they consider irrelevant in the new country. The conflicts are raw and painful. Rules of the game are repeated by mothers, and ignored by daughters.
Daughters speak of the dark side of mothers; mothers speak of daughters' inability to be obedient and malleable. Mothers have expectations that seem too hard to achieve. Throughout, there is a long history of each family, with the sins of mothers and fathers following generation after generation. "Fate is shaped half by expectations, and half by inattention."
Mothers have abilities to see in the future, to predict what will happen from present behaviors; daughters are afraid of what mothers can see, what mothers do not tell.
Both mothers and daughters are conflicted, unhappy with the relationship.
"It felt as if I had lost a battle, but one that I didn't know I had been fighting. I was weary."
"I saw what I had been fighting for. It was me, a scared child who had run away a long time ago..."
"She will fight me,because this is the nature of two tigers. But I will win and give her my spirit, because this is the way a mother loves her daughter."
In the end, there is a reconciliation, realizing that conflict is in everyone who want to deny one part of who they are. When that part comes from another culture, it becomes doubly hard.
" Which one is better? If you show one, you must always sacrifice the other."
The question, which way, is relevant in everyone's life. (Regardless of how the sign reads!)