Written by Amy Tan
Published by Putnam
Review by Paula Day
Amy Tan is at the top of her form with The Bonesetter’s Daughter, and no other author does justice to the intricacies of the mother/daughter relationship like Tan. She is the master at taking details of Chinese culture and presenting them in a universal way that all mothers and all daughters can recognize.
The Bonesetter’s Daughter takes place alternately in present day San Francisco and in 1920s China, where Luling struggles through a life cluttered with bad luck. With her Americanized daughter, Ruth, in northern California, Luling still feels stifled and afraid by the bad luck she is certain plagues them. Even as an adult, Ruth feels the weight of her mother’s worries and guilt-ridden lessons. When Ruth learns that Luling has Alzheimer’s disease, she realizes that she must come to terms with her feelings for and about her mother. But first she must learn the truth about her mother’s earlier life in China.
This is a heartrending novel for mothers of daughters or daughters of mothers. How many of us have had to learn that when our mothers are criticizing us they are really loving us? How many of us have yearned to know the truth of our mothers’ past, who they were before we were in the world? There are many universal truths displayed throughout Tan’s fiction. Her novels show that though daughters do not wish to repeat the patterns set by their mothers, they are almost certainly destined to, that is, unless they make the conscious decision to release the pain and longing. As daughters we inherit our mother’s weaknesses, but as adults we can reappropriate weakness into strength.
A longtime fan of Tan’s, I was thrilled reading The Bonesetter’s Daughter and could not put it down. Universal, honest, achingly true, Tan’s straightforward prose speaks to the strengths and the weaknesses of the timeless bond between mothers and daughters.
Paula Day is the Review Editor of The Copperfield Review and the managing editor of Copperfield Press. She lives in Los Angeles, California.