Jenna's Reviews > The Joy Luck Club

The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan
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bookshelves: fiction, asian-american-writers

It's not fashionable to profess a liking for The Joy Luck Club. In both academic and literary circles, Tan has been maligned for her seeming misandry and racial self-loathing, raked across the coals for her largely negative portrayal of Asian/Asian-American men and for marrying off all her Asian-American female characters to white men. She's been dismissed for writing "chick lit," lightweight family melodrama laced with orientalist cliches. She's even been accused of being politically reactionary. As Asian-American literature scholar Erin Ninh states in her academic text Ingratitude, The Joy Luck Club conveniently ignores "America's systemic racial and economic discrimination... [It] must be understood as part and parcel of [an] assimilationist obfuscation of power." And yet. I have a soft spot for this book. Because, damn it, Amy Tan was a pioneer, a groundbreaker. When I first read this novel at age 14 or so, it really spoke to me. It thrilled me that someone was finally writing down the difficult truths of Asian-American mother-daughter relationships, exposing the hidden realities of my private life to the public eye. A risky thing to do, as Amy Chua learned to her chagrin decades later. Waverly Jong's tragic story of chess-playing and mother-daughter psychological warfare: how could anyone not find it unforgettable? The scene where Lindo Jong poisons her daughter's mind against the mink coat she previously loved: doesn't it perfectly sum up the complicated love/hate dynamic between two devious and damaged women, intelligent and yet conditioned by society to waste their intelligence scheming against each other?
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Reading Progress

Started Reading
April 1, 1999 – Finished Reading
March 29, 2013 – Shelved
March 29, 2013 – Shelved as: fiction
March 31, 2013 – Shelved as: asian-american-writers

Comments Showing 1-4 of 4 (4 new)

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Jesse Blayne I've never read those opinions of Tan. I'm glad I didn't. I loved the book. I always thought her mastery of storytelling was all that mattered.

Jenna Thanks for reading my review and commenting here, Jesse. I'm inclined to agree that the quality of Tan's storytelling is what matters most, although I sympathize with other readers' argument that repeated recourse to a tired plot element over and over in an author's work (e.g., Tan's largely negative portrayals of Asian/Asian-American men) can sometimes reveal unconscious biases in the author that can interfere with that author's ability to portray the world deeply and accurately and can distract some readers (particularly Asian-American male readers) from said wonderful storytelling. It does seem unfair that readers are holding Amy Tan's feet to the fire more than some other authors I can think of, but it's unfortunately the fate of pioneers and trailblazers in any field to be held up to greater scrutiny than those who come after them.

Regardless of whatever shortcomings she may have or have had, I'll always honor Amy Tan as a pathbreaker and a truly compelling storyteller.

message 3: by Toni (last edited Sep 11, 2015 03:03PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Toni Volk I like 'Joy' very much. It was fascinating to me and I was awed at the time I read it by the mother who drowned her baby for whatever reason, to deprive the baby's father of his son, is what comes to mind. Any way, to put a scene like this in a novel sort of blew me away. I recall thinking, if a woman could forgive herself for an act of this kind, I guess the rest of us can forgive practically anything we hold against ourselves, as well. And I agree, Jenna, that this first book of hers was a compelling pathbreaker, one hard to top in her novels that would come later.

Ms.pegasus I liked that you mentioned the criticisms of Amy Tan's writing. Like Jesse, I was unaware of that, and happy to say it does not affect my enjoyment of her in the least.

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