Monday, April 13, 2009

Quo Vadis?

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!)


Susan said...

I really loved that book also. And I loved Tan's "The Kitchen God's Wife" even more. Thanks for the trip down memory lane - I'd forgotten the plot, only remembered that it made me both laugh and cry.

Absolute Vanilla (and Atyllah) said...

I remember reading the Joy Luck Club Years ago and being struck by the interweaving and clashing of east-west cultures - and I thought Tan did an excellent job of capturing the dynamics of all the relationships within the setting.

Anonymous said...

My wife loves Amy Tan. Did you know she plays in a garage band with Stephen King?

Siobhán said...

Thanks for that. I'd heard of it, but have never read it. Going on my list now.

Lola said...

Grazie Rosaria for confirming my thoughts. I've had the desire to read this novel for a while. It's on my shelf, still wrapped with the plastic film it came bound in from the Feltrinelli bookstore. I will go tear it open as soon as I get to bed, whenever that will be (I have a lot to catch up in blogland). Ciao cara

Anonymous said...

oh my gosh, I love Amy Tan. Her writing is gift from God. I have read her own impressions of how she weaves a book and the story and it stuns me how normal she is and how how extraordinary she is!

I was moved, as a mother, most by this book. Though in the viewing of the movie, several times, I was moved by the daughters, as a daughter.

She reaches in and pulls up the real stuff of which we are made. The longing to be known, understood, accepted, forgiven, strong enough...

I adore my book club and would love to be in yours. Sounds fabulous!

(I suggest Lisa See's Snowflower and the Secret Fan, if you haven't read it, and find Chinese women and their history as fascinating as I have.)

Lizzy Frizzfrock said...

I need to put this on my "to read" list. I saw the movie which I thought was lovely, but it probably did not live up to the book.
I wonder how you relate to the clashing of cultures. Did you go through this on a less severe scale when you immigrated to the U.S. from Italy. Of course you are a westerner so the difference between your life & one from the far east may be quite different. How did you cope? What kinds of cultural differences did you experience?

By the way, I'm back in my kitchen & just LOVING it. Gerald is enjoying it as well & the changes in his bathroom. (We have his & hers bathrooms.)

Delwyn said...

I loved Amy Tan and went on from this book to read all of hers as they became available.

I envy you your book club and like the way that you have looked more closely into the threads and themes of the novel.

I joined a book club a while back but after a cursory
"did you like it" the discussion reverted to daily chat and gossip which held no interest for me.

I have been inspired to pull out my copy for another read ...if I still have it - these days I donate all my books to the library ...a little passive community service that I can do while taking a sabbatical from active volunteer work.
thanks you for the inspiration...

Renee said...

Oh the joy luck club I remember it well. Great book and very good movie.

As for your dream, the important thing about them is how we feel when we wake up. What kind of taste did it leave in our mouth.

'My main worry was how to read the river' The key Madam is that you really never can. We do the best and we send forth. The little ones are either yourself or your children or grandchildren. And in each case the question is always the same. Have I done the right thing? Did I make the right choices? Was my advice sound?

If you woke up with this worry I am wondering if you have recently made a decision and either had to be convinced in your choice or were not completely satisfied with your decision.

Now that is my 2 cents.

I just read a book that I totally enjoyed 'The History of Love' by Nicole krauss. Check it out.

Love Renee xoxoxo

Mary said...

It would appear that Tan wrote this book as a way of resolving her own conflicts of being brought up by parents who desperately wanted to Americanize their children but at the same time hold them to the Chinese way of thinking. Imagine the conflict!

I remember feeling the desperation of all the children (grown up as they were) still trying to win the approval and acceptance from their mother's.

I love the subtle concept that these women had shadows in their past and that these same shadows shone a light into their daughters future happiness.

Lori ann said...

I too read The Joy Luck Club, once when it first came out and again with a book club i joined. But I'm curious Rosaria, you said you read books like a professor and yet you try not to, is it less enjoyable for you? to read as the professor?
I'm glad you reminded me about this book, I did love it.
♥ lori

karen said...

I loved the Joy Luck Club, couldn't put it down, actually... I had forgotten lots of it, but thanks for the reminder!

Kikit said...

Seems to be an interesting book. Like Lizzie, I'm putting this into my "to read" list. Thanks for sharing your review.

lakeviewer said...

Hi folks, thanks for visiting and taking the time to leave a comment.
Lori asked a question and I'd like to answer it:

Reading like a professor is not what we do naturally. As a trained person, however, analyzing a book is what I do to prepare for classes I taught. We looked at the structure, the themes, the language, etc. I said it was not natural because that kind of thinking when first put in place does slow your engagement with the book.

I like to read a book twice, with time in between, if the book is worth the second reading.

I must love the first encounter, though, before I go back for a repeat experience. It's the same with a movie. The first time you see it, you are attracted to the plot line, and the protagonist. You want to know what happens. On second viewing, you begin to notice patterns, juxtapositions, color and imagery that announce or support the mood.

In our book club, we basically tell each other what we liked, what was satisfying, what confused us. It's that first reading reaction.

It is just like any other art: the more you know how hard it is to perform or achieve the level of sophistication or quality, the more you appreciate it.

All should try to write/copy somebody's style: the sentence structure, the choice of vocabulary, the emphatic stop. It is daunting; but it presents us with an understanding/deconstruction of the workmanship, the polish involved in that creation-how hard it is to replicate.

Besides rereading, one ought to lay out the plot the way the writer did. For this book, it becomes obvious that the writer-by the way she is also a musician as C.Michael Fox pointed out-wrote a musical piece, in four parts harmony. Now, if I did have musical background, I could really, really see a whole lot more.

We see what we are prepared to see.

Sorry about the digression. Thank you for the opportunity to do so.

Renee said...

I am so glad you are not in my bookclub.

I am such a simple simon. I will be 'I think the cover is pretty.' You "What's pretty about it, what makes it pretty?" Me 'I like that she hugged the child.' You "Why did she hug the child?" You "What is the plot?" Me 'Is there supposed to be one?'

Har har har....

Snow is almost gone. yahoo.

Love Renee xoxo

Cynthia said...

I enjoy this book so much! It's one you can return to and find some gem that speaks to your heart. There is so much material to be explored in the mother/daughter relationship. Thanks for commenting on my "I write" poem. You are a generous woman of great heart. It was one of the first poems, I got published in a "real" book.
Enjoy your Joy Luck discussions, professor---er--writer. <3

Reasons to be Cheerful 1,2,3 said...

Sounds like a must, I'll get it. Thank you.

Helen said...

I read this lovely book and then went to see the film ~ thoroughly engrossing! If I didn't have so many books on my 'read' list right now, I would re-read this! Someday.

Bogey said...

I can understand why the others in your group believe you are reading like a professor. But I think it takes great wisdom and emotional experience to identify and interpret the words that are written. I'm sure no two people could read that book and come up with the same observations without it passing thru the memories of their own life experiences. Thanks for your wisdom.

Lori ann said...

Thank you Rosaria for the explanation, I am truly interested in what you were thinking!
It's true what you said, and even though I'm not a professor, I sometimes have to go back to something a couple times to have a better understanding of it. And, I think (i know!) i'd do better in Renee's group! :) :) :)

Angela Recada said...

Oh, I loved this book and the film! It makes me cry every time I think of it. A few months ago, I persuaded my 19 year old daughter to watch it with me, and we both ended up sobbing.

What wonderful discussions your book club must have! I'm a bit jealous!

Anonymous said...