Brina's Reviews > The Joy Luck Club

The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan
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really liked it
bookshelves: amy-tan, historical-fiction, asian-american, gift-exchange
Read 2 times. Last read March 3, 2017 to March 4, 2017.

During high school, when I did not have the life experience to fully appreciate her work, I read each of Amy Tan's books as they came out. Now, years later, with many other books and various experiences under my belt, I reread The Joy Luck Club, Tan's first book, as part of my March Women's History Month lineup.

Following her mother's death, June Mei Woo has replaced her mother Suyuan at her monthly mah jong game. Suyuan started this game and Joy Luck Club when she first immigrated to the United States as a way to maintain her Chinese culture in a new country. The other families who joined her-- the Hsus, Jongs, and St Claires-- became like family as together they celebrated festivals, children's birthdays, and indoctrinated the next generation in Chinese culture. Yet, June Mei and her friends from the group, Waverly, Rose, and Lena, for the most part were interested in achieving the American dream, often times at the expense of their mothers who worked hard to preserve their Chinese cultural existence.

It is also only at these meetings that these four ladies could pour out the sorrows of the life they left behind in China, including extended families who stayed in villages while these fortunate ones moved to Shanghai and Hong Kong and then to the United States. Away from these intimate gatherings, even the daughters of these women did not know much about their mothers' lives in China. It is at the opening of the book that June Mei finds out that her mother had twin daughters in China who she abandoned as babies and after all these years, they have been found. Much to June Mei's chagrin, the older women urge her to travel to China to meet her sisters and teach them about their mother's heritage.

While much about immigration experience, The Joy Luck Club is also about both the younger and older generation's path to self discovery. Tan uses a vignette format to alternate stories between the younger and older women, with June Mei's voice serving as a voice between the two. I enjoyed learning about life in pre-revolutionary, rural China and the hardships that drove the Chinese to immigrate in the first place. Once in the United States, however, the protagonists strove to preserve the same language, food, culture of the China that they were quick to leave behind. The fact that none of their daughters chose to marry Chinese men attests to the generation gap between first and second generation immigrants of any ethnic group. As in many cases, when the children move toward middle age, then they become interested in their parents' heritage, as is the case here. Unfortunately, it does change the gap that had been created when the children shunned their culture in exchange for life as normal Americans.

When published, The Joy Luck Club was an innovative look at Chinese immigrants and how being Chinese changes with each generation. Tan has encouraged an entire generation of Chinese American writers who we can enjoy today, and now there are a plethora of cultural groups writing about their immigrant experience. I recently read as part of a buddy read The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri and many of the participants noted that Lahiri's writing is much like Tan's a generation later. Talking about how Indian culture changes from one generation to the next, Lahiri does seem much as Tan, the torch bearer for this style of writing. That the Joy Luck Club has been an on the same page selection in multiple cities as well as studied in schools speaks to its enduring qualities. I look forward to revisiting Tan's other books again, and rate The Joy Luck Club 4 bright stars.
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Reading Progress

Finished Reading
April 10, 2016 – Shelved
April 10, 2016 – Shelved as: amy-tan
April 10, 2016 – Shelved as: historical-fiction
December 1, 2016 – Shelved as: asian-american
March 3, 2017 – Started Reading
March 4, 2017 – Finished Reading
February 25, 2019 – Shelved as: gift-exchange

Comments Showing 1-35 of 35 (35 new)

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message 1: by Kara (last edited Apr 11, 2016 06:45AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kara Brina, You must've had an amazing high school teacher--or your were that advanced with your reading preferences! I didn't pick this one up until this year, though I've read a few of her others. I wish I would've realized it was more like a series of stories than a single narrative but that didn't stop me from devouring it whole.

Brina Kara- my "teacher" was my mom. We shared books from the time I was in middle school. Allende, Alvarez, Garcia, Tan, Kingsolver. Read all of them. We got one copy of library book and shared it. And she had a book before movie rule as incentive :)

Linda Loved loved this novel, the characters just drew you right in,

message 4: by Laura (new)

Laura Hah. My mother had the same rule. I didn't realize it at first when I was younger, how look that book we just read has come out as a movie. What a coincidence.

Kara Fantastic!!!! What a wonderful gift to share with your Mom and a legacy to pass on.

Brina Kara and to this day I won't read your run of the mill women's lit or romance unless highly recommended. Laura, so true. The movie my mom was especially firm about was Like Water For Chocolate. Absolutely I had to read the book first. Then she took me to a fancy theater to see the movie. I have same rule for my kids. We have seen Harry Potter multiple times but they have read books that many times first :)

Joyce Brina, what a wonderful tradition! And having a complete list of books read is another. Every now and then I still come across a book I've read and forgotten and then add it. The only trouble is that there's some books I think I've read, but can't remember for sure. So much better to capture them on your list sooner than 30, 40 years down the road.

Amanda I've always loved Amy Tan and Laura Esquivel. They were my favorite novelists in my early adulthood. In my home we follow the book before the movie rule too. My daughter is preparing for Alice Through the Looking Glass.

Brina Thank you everyone. My daughter read The Wizard of Oz this year. Then I showed her the movie and she kept saying I know that. So yes an amazing tradition to have and it just goes to show that for the most part "the book is better than the movie."

☼♄Jülie  This has always remained a favourite of mine too Brina ;)

Brina Thanks Julie. As I said this is a year of rereads for me so I might end up with it later in the year.

message 12: by [deleted user] (new)

She one of my favorites too.

message 13: by Charlotte (new)

Charlotte Guzman I loved reading this book some years back and continued to read her other books. I loved her mother/daughter relationship as her story line in this and lot of her other books. Enjoy!

Brina I haven't read this book in years but I have been reading a lot of Jhumpa Lahiri recently and their writing has been compared; so I wanted to reread Tan to see if this is valid.

Cynda Cat I read this book about the time the movie showed on television in US, so years ago. I was enchanted. And more recemtly, a year or two ago, I read The Valley of Amazemen, beautiful. I would like to someday read her Kitchen God'so Wife, just sounds interesting.

Brina I am going back and rereading her books. I recently discussed with my mother the importance of reading levels versus reading experience. I read what my mother did from middle school and on but could not appreciate the books that I read to a certain extent because I lacked the life experience to do so. Rereading these gems now has been such a joy now that I can relate to the characters better. Next up is The Bonesetter's Daughter.

message 17: by Obsidian (new)

Obsidian I really want to reread this now. I remember it being so sad. The movie was good too.

Brina I think it is sad in the sense of culture being lost and then the generational conflict. The imagery is beautiful though.

Zoeytron Loved your review. I read this many years ago, and you've made me want to read it all over again.

Brina I hope you love rediscovering this, then :-)

PattyMacDotComma Love the review and that you've reminded me of a book maybe I should re-read as well. The migrant experience is sure difficult for the migrants' kids to understand. I think a lot of them just want to get on with life and are a bit embarrassed by their old-fashioned parents. If they only knew what rich cultures they're forsaking!

message 22: by Betsy (new)

Betsy Robinson I read this many years ago. Lovely review, Brina. Thanks for reminding me how good this is.

Brina Patty this pattern of foresaking tradition I shall the same in many ethnic groups. When I was in school my favorite event of the year was the international students fair because we got to witness a melting pot of cultures. Yet the international students I was in school with were for the most part children of immigrants and were for the most part American. Looking back I wonder if this fair at school was the most culture these children of immigrants were exposed to during the year.

message 24: by Mimi (new) - rated it 3 stars

Mimi My copy is shoved to the back of my overfull bookshelf, perhaps I should find it and reread. I don't think I have seen the movie

Brina Mimi the movie I thought was so-so but I enjoyed the book more this time around. I hope you get to read soon.

message 26: by Carol (new)

Carol Tell us a bit more about your plans for Women's History Month reading. Lovely review Brina.

Brina Carol, I posted a list in a group. I can post later if you are interested. Trying to only read books by women except for long read classic I am reading.

Brina Carol and others, here is my list:
I am celebrating Women's History Month by only reading women authors this month. This is what I hope to read in March:
The Murder of Roger Ackroyd
Love Medicine
The Joy Luck Club
Bel Canto
Hidden Figures
The Best Team Money Can Buy
The Housekeeper and the Professor
My Brilliant Friend
An Unrestored Woman
and one classic book and one play by male authors:
Joe Turner's Come and Gone
Les Misérables in a buddy read in another group, reading 30 pages a night.

Happy reading everyone!!!

Vivian Pfau read it, loved the book and movie

Brina Glad to hear it, Vivian.

message 31: by Ann (new) - added it

Ann Girdharry nice review, I shall definitely read this at some point. The story sounds great. Did you like the quality of her writing?

Brina Ann, yes. Very accessible to read with detailed imagery of both China and Chinatown in San Francisco. I would recommend it.

message 33: by Lady Clementina (new)

Lady Clementina ffinch-ffarowmore Enjoyed your review- makes me want to read the book.

Brina Lady Clementina, I hope you enjoy this book :)

message 35: by Mariah Roze (new) - added it

Mariah Roze Our Diversity in All Forms Book Club is reading this for May. We’d love to have you join the discussion on it. :)

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