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One From the Archive: ‘Peony in Love’ by Lisa See ***

I have wanted to read more of See’s work since finishing her gorgeous Snow Flower and The Secret Fan. I was expecting something along the same lines if I’m honest, with constantly beautiful writing, characters I felt sympathy for, and a wonderfully crafted sense of times past in the fascinating country of China. 9780812975222

When beginning Peony in Love however, I found that it did not pull me in as much as the aforementioned novel, and I even began to get a little discontented with it as I reached the second part. The writing was relatively nice – an insipid word, but sadly I can pay no higher compliment – but something about the narrative voice made it feel a lot more modern on the whole than it should have. It was supposed to be the account of a young girl living in 16th century China, and on occasion it read like an overexcited and thoroughly modern teenager had penned it. I did not like Peony, our narrator and protagonist, at all. She was incredibly self-important, and whilst she acted as though she was so grown up, she was in reality very naive. Peony had the kind of youthful arrogance which really puts me off in novels (though I do adore Holden Caulfield – go figure). I suppose we can put See’s portrayal of Peony partly down to the teenage condition, but she very much overdid this element of the plot in my eyes.

The period of history which See addresses in Peony in Love is fascinating, but I do not feel that it is explored as well as it could have been. As in Snow Flower, the foot-binding scenes made me feel rather sick. With regard to the history presented, I felt that some of the characters clashed a little with their social backdrop. We are told why several of the protagonists act in the ways in which they do after a while, but I still struggle to believe that someone in 16th century China would be so unfailingly rude to her husband as Peony’s mother is.

Overall, I found Peony in Love to be rather an odd tale, and a thoroughly unexpected one. On the face of it, it is a love story, but elements of it are rather creepy. The cultural history which See portrays is fascinating but horrendously brutal, and I only wish See had made more of it within the novel.

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Reading the World: ‘Feather’ by Cao Wenxuan ***

Cao Wenxuan’s Feather is the only children’s book which I have chosen to include upon my Reading the World list.  It has been translated from its original Chinese by Chloe Garcia-Roberts, and has been written by China’s answer to Hans Christian Andersen.  Feather felt like something a little different, both to read and to write about.

31817594Feather opens with Wenxuan’s inspiration for writing the tale: ‘One day a great wind blew through Beijing.  As I was walking into the gale I suddenly noticed a single white feather on the ground go fluttering and floating up into the sky…  The feather was riding the wind with grace and ease yet at the same time precariously and helplessly.’  He wonders about the fate of the feather, and in his book, has made it visit a whole host of different birds to find out where it comes from.  Whilst this circular structure has been designed for children, Wenxuan writes: ‘Underlying this simply story… are actually the core questions of human thought: where do I come from?  Where do I want to go?  Who do I belong to?’  Essentially, he has decided to emulate the human desire of finding a sense of belonging.

Roger Mello’s illustrations were my favourite part of Feather; they are both beautiful and quirky, and really augment the story.  The writing itself is rather simplistic, as one might expect, but some very nice ideas have been woven into it.  The use of the feather’s own perspective is rather sweet and imaginative: ‘How she longed for the sky!  How she longed to soar!’  Feather is sure to delight children with a love of art and nature.  It is difficult, however, to know which age group makes up the target audience; the text is not advanced enough for a lot of children, but includes too many words to make it accessible to younger readers.

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Reading the World: Asia (Part Two)

The second part of our reading adventure around Asia!  Again, I must apologise for the lack of diversity and overrepresentation of Japan overall; I will work on my Asian reading in future, and that is a promise.

97800992864311. Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress by Dai Sijie (China)
‘1971: Mao’s cultural Revolution is at its peak. Two sons of doctors, sent to ‘re-education’ camps, forced to carry buckets of excrement up and down mountain paths, have only their sense of humour to keep them going. Although the attractive daughter of the local tailor also helps to distract them from the task at hand. The boys’ true re-education starts, however, when they discover a hidden suitcase packed with the great Western novels of the nineteenth century. Their lives are transformed. And not only their lives: after listening to the stories of Balzac, the little seamstress will never be the same again.’

2. Geisha by Liza Dalby (Japan)
‘Liza Dalby, author of The Tale of Murasaki, is the only non-Japanese woman ever to have become a geisha. This is her unique insight into the extraordinary, closed world of the geisha, a world of grace, beauty and tradition that has long fascinated and enthralled the West. Taking us to the heart of a way of life normally hidden from the public gaze, Liza Dalby shows us the detailed reality that lies behind the bestselling Memoirs of a Geisha and opens our eyes to an ancient profession that continues to survive in today’s modern Japan.’

3. The Flamboya Tree: A Family’s Wartime Courage by Clara Olink Kelly (Indonesia)
‘When the Japanese invaded the beautiful Indonesian island of Java during the Second World War Clara Kelly was four years old. Her family was separated, her father sent to work on the Burma railway, and she together with her mother and her two brothers, one a six-week-old baby, was sent to a ‘women’s camp’. They were interned there until the end of the war. Clara’s descriptions of the appalling deprivations and impersonal brutality of the camp, easily recognisable as the same techniques used in the infamously cruel Japanes prisoner of war camps – standing in the baking heat for hours of ‘Tenko’ role-call, living on one cup of rice a day – are countered by the courage and resilience shown by all the internees, most poignantly her own mother.’

4. The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri ((partially set in) India) 9780006551805
‘”When her grandmother learned of Ashima’s pregnancy, she was particularly thrilled at the prospect of naming the family’s first sahib. And so Ashima and Ashoke have agreed to put off the decision of what to name the baby until a letter comes…” For now, the label on his hospital cot reads simply BABY BOY GANGULI. But as time passes and still no letter arrives from India, American bureaucracy takes over and demands that ‘baby boy Ganguli’ be given a name. In a panic, his father decides to nickname him ‘Gogol’ – after his favourite writer. Brought up as an Indian in suburban America, Gogol Ganguli soon finds himself itching to cast off his awkward name, just as he longs to leave behind the inherited values of his Bengali parents. And so he sets off on his own path through life, a path strewn with conflicting loyalties, love and loss…Spanning three decades and crossing continents, Jhumpa Lahiri’s much-anticipated first novel is a triumph of humane story-telling. ‘

5. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini (Afghanistan)
‘Afghanistan, 1975: Twelve-year-old Amir is desperate to win the local kite-fighting tournament and his loyal friend Hassan promises to help him. But neither of the boys can foresee what will happen to Hassan that afternoon, an event that is to shatter their lives. After the Russians invade and the family is forced to flee to America, Amir realises that one day he must return to Afghanistan under Taliban rule to find the one thing that his new world cannot grant him: redemption.’

97807475683396. Empress Orchid by Anchee Min (China)
‘To rescue her family from poverty and avoid marrying her slope-shouldered cousin, seventeen-year-old Orchid competes to be one of the Emperor’s wives. When she is chosen as a lower-ranking concubine she enters the erotically charged and ritualised Forbidden City. But beneath its immaculate facade lie whispers of murders and ghosts, and the thousands of concubines will stoop to any lengths to bear the Emperor’s son. Orchid trains herself in the art of pleasuring a man, bribes her way into the royal bed, and seduces the monarch, drawing the attention of dangerous foes. Little does she know that China will collapse around her, and that she will be its last Empress.’

7. Brick Lane by Monica Ali (Bangladesh, in part)
‘Still in her teenage years, Nazneen finds herself in an arranged marriage with a disappointed man who is twenty years older. Away from the mud and heat of her Bangladeshi village, home is now a cramped flat in a high-rise block in London’s East End. Nazneen knows not a word of English, and is forced to depend on her husband. But unlike him she is practical and wise, and befriends a fellow Asian girl Razia, who helps her understand the strange ways of her adopted new British home. Nazneen keeps in touch with her sister Hasina back in the village. But the rebellious Hasina has kicked against cultural tradition and run off in a ‘love marriage’ with the man of her dreams. When he suddenly turns violent, she is forced into the degrading job of garment girl in a cloth factory. Confined in her flat by tradition and family duty, Nazneen also sews furiously for a living, shut away with her buttons and linings – until the radical Karim steps unexpectedly into her life. On a background of racial conflict and tension, they embark on a love affair that forces Nazneen finally to take control of her fate. Strikingly imagined, gracious and funny, this novel is at once epic and intimate. Exploring the role of Fate in our lives – those who accept it; those who defy it – it traces the extraordinary transformation of an Asian girl, from cautious and shy to bold and dignified woman.’

8. Life of Pi by Yann Martel (India) 9780739377956
‘”The Jungle Book “meets “Not Wanted On the Voyage” in a triumph of storytelling and originality: a novel, as one character puts it, to make you believe in God. Piscine Molitor Patel, nicknamed Pi, lives in Pondicherry, India, where his family runs a zoo. Little Pi is a great reader. He devours books on Hinduism, Christianity and Islam, and to the surprise of his secular parents, becomes devoted to all three religions. When the parents decide to emigrate to Canada, the family boards a cargo ship with many of the animals that are going to new zoological homes in North America, and bravely sets sail for the New World. Alas, the ship sinks. A solitary lifeboat remains bobbing on the surface of the wild blue Pacific. In it are five survivors: Pi, a hyena, a zebra, an orang-utan and a 450-pound Royal Bengal tiger. With intelligence, daring and inexpressible fear, Pi manages to keep his wits about him as the animals begin to assert their places in the foodchain; it is the tiger, Richard Parker, with whom he must develop an inviolable understanding. ‘

9. A Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute (Malaya)
‘Jean Paget is just twenty years old and working in Malaya when the Japanese invasion begins. When she is captured she joins a group of other European women and children whom the Japanese force to march for miles through the jungle – an experience that leads to the deaths of many. Due to her courageous spirit and ability to speak Malay, Jean takes on the role of leader of the sorry gaggle of prisoners and many end up owing their lives to her indomitable spirit. While on the march, the group run into some Australian prisoners, one of whom, Joe Harman, helps them steal some food, and is horrifically punished by the Japanese as a result. After the war, Jean tracks Joe down in Australia and together they begin to dream of surmounting the past and transforming his one-horse outback town into a thriving community like Alice Springs.’

10. The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan (China)
‘This novel, told from the viewpoints of four Chinese mothers and their four American-Chinese daughters, examines the nature of the mother-daughter relationship, and the problems of cultural identity the characters face.’

 

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Reading the World: Asia (Part One)

I am absolutely fascinated by Asia (in fact, my boyfriend and I are planning a trip there next year), but I have oddly read very few books set on the continent.  I had not realised quite how lacking my reading around Asia was until I started perusing lists for what to include in my recommendations.  With the exception of Japan and China, I have barely explored at all, in a literary sense.  That said, I have still managed to eke out two posts filled with Asian books, which I would heartily recommend.

1. Human Acts by Han Kang (South Korea; review here9781846275968
‘Gwangju, South Korea, 1980. In the wake of a viciously suppressed student uprising, a boy searches for his friend’s corpse, a consciousness searches for its abandoned body, and a brutalised country searches for a voice. In a sequence of interconnected chapters the victims and the bereaved encounter censorship, denial, forgiveness and the echoing agony of the original trauma. Human Acts is a universal book, utterly modern and profoundly timeless.’

2. Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden (Japan)
‘This is a seductive and evocative epic on an intimate scale, which tells the extraordinary story of a geisha girl. Summoning up more than twenty years of Japan’s most dramatic history, it uncovers a hidden world of eroticism and enchantment, exploitation and degredation. From a small fishing village in 1929, the tale moves to the glamorous and decadent heart of Kyoto in the 1930s, where a young peasant girl is sold as servant and apprentice to a renowned geisha house. She tells her story many years later from the Waldorf Astoria in New York; it exquisitely evokes another culture, a different time and the details of an extraordinary way of life. It conjures up the perfection and the ugliness of life behind rice-paper screens, where young girls learn the arts of the geisha – dancing and singing, how to wind the kimonok, how to walk and pour tea, and how to beguile the most powerful men.’

97800994484713. Sputnik Sweetheart by Haruki Murakami (Japan; review here)
‘Twenty-two-year-old Sumire is in love with a woman seventeen years her senior. But whereas Miu is glamorous and successful, Sumire is an aspiring writer who dresses in an oversized second-hand coat and heavy boots like a character in a Kerouac novel. Surprised that she might, after all, be a lesbian, Sumire spends hours on the phone talking to her best friend K about the big questions in life: what is sexual desire and should she ever tell Miu how she feels for her. rustrated in his own love for Sumire, K consoles himself by having an affair with the mother of one of his pupils. Then a desperate Miu calls from a small Greek island and asks for his help, and he discovers something very strange has happened to Sumire.’

4. The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy (India)
‘This is the story of Rahel and Estha, twins growing up among the banana vats and peppercorns of their blind grandmother’s factory, and amid scenes of political turbulence in Kerala. Armed only with the innocence of youth, they fashion a childhood in the shade of the wreck that is their family: their lonely, lovely mother, their beloved Uncle Chacko (pickle baron, radical Marxist, bottom-pincher) and their sworn enemy, Baby Kochamma (ex-nun, incumbent grand-aunt). Arundhati Roy’s Booker Prize-winning novel was the literary sensation of the 1990s: a story anchored to anguish but fuelled by wit and magic.’

5. The Bookseller of Kabul by Asne Seierstad (Afghanistan) 9781844080472
‘Two weeks after September 11th, award-winning journalist Asne Seierstad went to Afghanistan to report on the conflict there. In the following spring she returned to live with an Afghan family for several months. For more than twenty years Sultan Khan defied the authorities – be they communist or Taliban – to supply books to the people of Kabul. He was arrested, interrogated and imprisoned by the communists and watched illiterate Taliban soldiers burn piles of his books in the street. He even resorted to hiding most of his stock in attics all over Kabul. But while Khan is passionate in his love of books and hatred of censorship, he is also a committed Muslim with strict views on family life. As an outsider, Seierstad is able to move between the private world of the women – including Khan’s two wives – and the more public lives of the men. And so we learn of proposals and marriages, suppression and abuse of power, crime and punishment. The result is a gripping and moving portrait of a family, and a clear-eyed assessment of a country struggling to free itself from history.’

6. Falling Leaves: The Story of an Unwanted Chinese Daughter by Adeline Yen Mah (China)
‘This is the story of an unwanted Chinese daughter, growing up during the Communist Revolution, blamed for her mother’s death, ignored by her millionaire father and unwanted by her Eurasian step mother. A story of greed, hatred and jealousy; a domestic drama is played against the extraordinary political events in China and Hong Kong. Written with the emotional force of a novel but with a vividness drawn from a personal and political background, “Falling Leaves” has been an enduring bestseller all over the world.’

97801410272897. The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai (India)
‘High in the Himalayas sits a dilapidated mansion, home to three people, each dreaming of another time. The judge, broken by a world too messy for justice, is haunted by his past. His orphan granddaughter has fallen in love with her handsome tutor, despite their different backgrounds and ideals. The cook’s heart is with his son, who is working in a New York restaurant, mingling with an underclass from all over the globe as he seeks somewhere to call home. Around the house swirl the forces of revolution and change. Civil unrest is making itself felt, stirring up inner conflicts as powerful as those dividing the community, pitting the past against the present, nationalism against love, a small place against the troubles of a big world.’

8. Asleep by Banana Yoshimoto (Japan)
‘In these three novellas, Yoshimoto spins the stories of three young women bewitched into a spiritual sleep. Sly and mystical as a ghost story, with a touch of Kafkaesque surrealism.’

9. Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See (China) 9780747582922
‘Lily is the daughter of a humble farmer, and to her family she is just another expensive mouth to feed. Then, the local matchmaker delivers startling news: if Lily’s feet are bound properly, they will be flawless. In nineteenth-century China, where a woman’s eligibility is judged by the shape and size of her feet, this is extraordinary good luck. Lily, now, has the power to make a good marriage and change the fortunes of her family. To prepare for her new life, she must undergo the agonies of footbinding, learn nu shu, the famed secret women’s writing, and make a very special friend, Snow Flower. But, a bitter reversal of fortune is about to change everything.’

10. NP by Banana Yoshimoto (Japan)
‘In “N.P.,” a celebrated Japanese writer has committed suicide, leaving behind a collection of stories written in English, entitled “N.P.” But the book may never be published in his native Japan: each translator who takes up the ninety-eighth story chooses death too including Kazami’s boyfriend, Shoji. Haunted by Shoji s death, Kazami discovers the truth behind the ninety-eighth storyand comes to believe that everything that had happened was shockingly beautiful, enough to make you crazy.’

 

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One From the Archive: ‘Sea of Ink’ by Richard Weihe ***

First published in October 2012.

Fifty one short chapters make up Richard Weihe’s Sea of Ink, translated from the German by Jamie Bulloch. The novella, complete with many wonderful pictures, portrays the life of Bada Shanren, ‘one of the most influential Chinese painters of all times’.

The book sets out the tumultuous history of the period in the first chapters, using succinct sentences to present all of the relevant information without overwhelming the reader. It begins in the summer of 1644, a time in which ‘the Manchus brought the three-hundred-year reign of the Ming dynasty to an end and proclaimed the dawn of a new era’.

The story which Weihe has fashioned follows Zhu Da, the Prince of Yiyang, ‘the seventeenth son of the founder of the Ming dynasty’. After several transformations, Zhu Da becomes Bada Shanren, the painter who is ‘committed to capturing the essence of nature with a single stroke’. Through Bada’s painting lessons, we are immersed into the world of ancient Chinese art, able to imagine his every brushstroke through Weihe’s powerful descriptions. In one particularly exquisite passage, Weihe describes how Bada ‘cocked his wrist, whereupon the tips of the bristles pirouetted… then with another turn of the wrist he brought his hand down towards himself, lifting the brush from the paper in a slow but fluid movement so that the bottom of his line tapered as evenly as the top had’.

Much information has been included throughout, from the two ingredients, ‘soot and glue’ which were needed to produce the ink produced in the palace’s manufacturing workshop, to the ways in which the best ink can be recognised: ‘It should breathe in the light like the feathers of a raven and shine like the pupils in a child’s eyes’.

Some of the phrases throughout are just lovely: ‘Looking up through the water, he could see the dragon’s green shimmering eyes and flared nostrils in a cloud of steam’ and ‘He ran barefoot across the springy floor of the pine forest; he was dancing with the earth’. Small chunks of the prose itself seem rather simplistic at times and almost stolid at others, but this may be merely due to the translation. On the whole, a few of the passages do look deceptively simple, but actually add a lot more to the story than is thought at first glance.

Sea of Ink is an incredibly interesting and evocative novella, which will appeal to a wide scope of readers – from those interested in Chinese history to those who enjoy painting or studying the work of artists, there is something for everyone included in these 106 pages.

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‘The Good Earth’ by Pearl S. Buck *** (Classics Club #3)

The third entry upon my Classics Club list was a novel which I had been meaning to read since I first started taking adult literature seriously, at around the age of nine or so.  Perhaps rather predictably, I waited for quite some years before purchasing a copy, but I made myself read it sooner rather than later.  To say that I was disappointed with the novel is fair; I believe that the setting and story had been put on a pedestal of sorts in my mind, and almost as soon as I began to read The Good Earth whilst on a relatively long train journey, I knew that I wouldn’t love it. 

Its premise – as I find with many classic or ‘modern classic’ novels – is fascinating: “In The Good Earth Pearl S. Buck paints an indelible portrait of China in the 1920s, when the last emperor reigned and the vast political and social upheavals of the twentieth century were but distant rumblings. This moving, classic story of the honest farmer Wang Lung and his selfless wife O-Lan is must reading for those who would fully appreciate the sweeping changes that have occurred in the lives of the Chinese people during the last century. Nobel Prize winner Pearl S. Buck traces the whole cycle of life: its terrors, its passions, its ambitions and rewards. Her brilliant novel–beloved by millions of readers–is a universal tale of an ordinary family caught in the tide of history.”

Whilst The Good Earth was the recipient of the Pulitzer Prize in 1932, a year after its publication, I could not help but feel that the prose which had been used was rather too simplistic to build the levels of emotion which should have been present in such a novel.  I expected that Buck’s writing would veer toward the poetic, but in places it felt incredibly flat, largely due to its matter-of-fact third person narrative.  Some of her descriptions were rather nice; however, it did not seem as though the same amount of care had been taken throughout to make the prose feel consistent.

Buck’s perception of the Chinese culture was interesting, but I had the feeling that she was merely scratching at the surface for the most part.  One would think that as a resident of China herself, she could perhaps have included several details which are – or were – not that commonplace, but there was no real sense of her delving deeply into the history and social aspects of the country.  Due to the detached way in which the novel was both told – and, it could be said, constructed – I did not feel much sympathy at all for any of the protagonists, and did not often find myself agreeing with their actions either.

To conclude, whilst I have given The Good Earth three stars, I feel that my rating is rather generous.  Whilst I was relatively interested in the novel up until around the halfway point, and it did largely keep my attention, the second half of the story was rather bland.  Rather than rushing out to read more of Buck’s work, as I had half-expected I would when I added The Good Earth to my Classics Club list, I do not feel at all enthused to pick up any more of her novels.

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Two Disappointing Reads

I have begun to read and subsequently abandoned two novels which I was very excited about of late – The Valley of Amazement by Amy Tan, and July’s People by Nadine Gordimer.  The reasons as to why neither story really gelled with me are as follows.

‘The Valley of Amazement’ by Amy Tan

The Valley of Amazement by Amy Tan
I have very much enjoyed Tan’s work to date, and when I spotted this beautiful behemoth in the library, I picked it up immediately (and then silently cursed it on the way home for weighing me down).  It is an enormous book, and took Tan eight years to write.  The story begins in 1905, and tells of Violet Minturn, the daughter of an American woman who ‘grows up in the confines of Shanghai’s most exclusive courtesan house’.  When the Emperor is deposed in 1912 and ‘celebrations rock the city, a cruel act of deception separates Violet from her mother and she is forced to become a virgin courtesan’.

Throughout, the novel is told using the first person perspectives of Violet and her mother, but from the very start, it does not feel quite real.  There is an unusual sense of detachment which plants its seeds from the first.  Stylistically, it is much the same as Tan’s other books, what with the use of Chinese and American nationalities and the differences between the two, the female perspective, and telling the same story from the point of view of more than one character.  The cultural details which Tan includes are relatively interesting, but sadly, it felt as though there was nothing at all original about The Valley of Amazement.  I did not have the patience to read through six hundred rather large pages, and am now unsure as to whether I will read more of Tan’s future publications.

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‘July’s People’ by Nadine Gordimer

 

July’s People by Nadine Gordimer
On reflection, this was probably an odd choice of book to take with me on a long weekend to France, dealing as it does with segregation in South Africa.  July’s People was the winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, so I was expecting great things from it.  I really liked the storyline, and the way in which Gordimer challenged the racial differences which were so prevalent at the time:

“The members of the Smales family, a liberal white couple and three young children, are rescued from the terror [in which armed militants ruthlessly killed innocents all over the country] by their servant, July, who leads them to refuge in his native village.”

In terms of its prose style, it was not at all as I had thought it would be.  Gordimer writes in a contemporary manner – she does not use conventional techniques, but instead puts dashes in the place of speech marks, occasionally starts sentences with lowercase letters, and so on.  For me, July’s People was not executed as well as it could have been.  The whole felt too matter-of-fact and rather detached to be an absorbing novel.  Based upon my experiences with this book, I am not sure I’ll be trying to read more of Gordimer’s fiction any time soon.

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‘The Joy Luck Club’ by Amy Tan ****

The Joy Luck Club begins is Amy Tan’s first novel, and was first published in 1989.  The novel begins in 1949, where four women, all recent arrivals in San Francisco, decide to ‘meet weekly to play mah-jong and tell stories of what they left behind in China’.  These women call themselves the Joy Luck Club.  The novel is split into four sections, each of which includes a chapter told by three of the four women in the club – An-mei Hsu, Lindo Jong and Ying-Ying St. Clair – or their daughters – Waverly, Lena, Rose and Jing-Mei.  Tan has decided to begin the novel with a small cast list featuring her protagonists.

‘The Joy Luck Club’ by Amy Tan

The first perspective used in The Joy Luck Club is that of Jing-Mei Woo, who has had no real choice but to join the club: ‘My father has asked me to be the fourth corner at the Joy Luck Club.  I am to replace my mother, whose seat at the mah-jong table has been empty since she died two months ago.  My father thinks she was killed by her own thoughts’.  All of the women within the Joy Luck Club met each other through the First Chinese Baptist Church when first arriving in their new hometown.  Jing-Mei says: ‘My mother could sense that the women of these families also had unspeakable tragedies they had left behind in China and hopes they couldn’t begin to express in their fragile English’.  The idea for the club had been dreamed up by her mother whilst she was still a resident of her native China, ‘on a summer night that was so hot even the moths fainted to the ground, their wings so heavy with the damp heat’.  Her vision for the club included the following view: ‘We weren’t allowed to think a bad thought…  And each week we could hope to be lucky.  The hope was our only joy’.

As with her other novels, Tan weaves in the vivid past of the Chinese, making it a firm and intrinsic element of her protagonists and, indirectly, of their daughters.  The disparities between both cultures – Chinese and American – is highlighted throughout, particularly so with regard to the generational divide.  The differences between different areas of China is also addressed.  Lindo says: ‘That was how backward families in the country were.  We were always the last to give up stupid old-fashioned customs…  You never heard if ideas were better in another city, only if they were worse’.  Tan outlines the way in which language can be misconstrued in its meaning from one culture to another.  The Joy Luck Club is culturally stable, and uses Chinese vocabulary, customs and a wealth of traditional foodstuffs to ground it in time, place and culture.  The merging of the cultures is fascinating, as is the outlining of Chinese cultural constraints and expectations.  From a cultural perspective, The Joy Luck Club is a most interesting novel.

Tan’s prose, particularly with regard to the speech of her characters, is beautiful.  She excels particularly at descriptions.  The stories of each of the protagonists are woven in throughout.  The way in which different first person perspectives have been used works so well.  The majority deal with the present, and all include details of the past, which have shaped the women.  Throughout, Tan exemplifies the bravery of women in the face of dire adversity. The relationships between the women are believable and translate well to the page.  Each thread of the story works well, and an extremely absorbing novel is created as a result.