Thursday, June 3, 2010

book review - The Bonesetter's Daughter

I was so thrilled to hear Amy Tan speak, on the last day of my AAM conference. She is quite the storyteller, as I knew she would be, and very comical. Tan told us about how she moved with her mother and two siblings all over the world, satisfying her mother's superstitious notions of what was best. I wanted Amy to sign one of her books for me, so I bought The Bonesetter's Daughter before I left. Even though it was a hardbound book, it was worth carrying on the plane to read.

The story is basically divided into three parts. In Part One, we meet a first generation Chinese author and her mother LuLing, who's full of mystery and highly superstitious. When Ruth sees LuLing showing signs of dementia, she decides to pay closer attention to her mother's behavior. After the two go to see LuLing's regular doctor, he says to her, "I'm sure you must have felt you were on the witness stand." "Like OJ." replies LuLing. Then she starts chatting about how she saw OJ kill his wife. Here's part of it:
"I follow that man, oh he sneaky. O.J. hide in bush. Later, I go his house too. Watch him take glove, stick in garden, go back inside change clothes." LuLing caught herself, embarrassed. "Well, he change clothes, course I don't look, turn my eyes. Later he run to airport, almost late, jump on plane. I see whole thing."
This section reminded me of working women my age, facing the trials of aging parents. At the end of the Part One, Ruth is cleaning her mother’s house and discovers pages LuLing has written, "These are things I should not forget." Did her mother realized she was loosing her memory? The pages are titled Heart, Change, Ghost, Destiny, Effortless, Character, and Fragrance; they are the chapter titles for Part Two. In them, LuLing describes her life in China, and the hardships she had growing up. I wonder if Tan is repeating stories she heard from her own mother...
Tan's writing is very descriptive and visual. Many of the characters are easy to identify with, even if you haven't experience war firsthand or gone through hardships in your own family. I saw LuLing gain strength in helping others and using her common sense to outwit her adversaries. During World War II, she devises a plan to make her way to Peking unharmed:
“I took some of the leftovers of the rice porridge we had eaten that morning, and drained off the watery portion and smeared this liquid onto my skin, my checks, forehead, neck, and hands, so that when it dried I had the leathery, cracked appearance of an old country woman. I put some more of the sticky rice water into a thermos and to that I added chicken blood....”
She must have looked like a wreck! I’ll let you read what she did with the chicken blood, but I’ll tell you now, nobody bothered her. It took LuLing many years to get out of China, and I was so relieved when she finally got her visa. The last section of the book brings the story full circle, just like a symphony. It was a great book, and I highly recommend it. And yes, I got my book signed. {:-D


Anna said...

Cool that you are reviewing books. I have read a short story by Amy Tan. Interesting writer.

Take a peek at my T-post when you get the time.
Best wishes,

Anna's Ts

Splendid Little Stars said...

I love Amy Tan's writing! Thanks for an interesting review!

Anitra Cameron said...

Oh, goodie! Another Amy Tan book! Thanks for the review--I'll be looking to find this now.

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