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The Bonesetter's Daughter Mass Market Paperback – January 29, 2002

4.1 out of 5 stars 497 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

At the beginning of Amy Tan's fourth novel, two packets of papers written in Chinese calligraphy fall into the hands of Ruth Young. One bundle is titled Things I Know Are True and the other, Things I Must Not Forget. The author? That would be the protagonist's mother, LuLing, who has been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. In these documents the elderly matriarch, born in China in 1916, has set down a record of her birth and family history, determined to keep the facts from vanishing as her mind deteriorates.

A San Francisco career woman who makes her living by ghostwriting self-help books, Ruth has little idea of her mother's past or true identity. What's more, their relationship has tended to be an angry one. Still, Ruth recognizes the onset of LuLing's decline--along with her own remorse over past rancor--and hires a translator to decipher the packets. She also resolves to "ask her mother to tell her about her life. For once, she would ask. She would listen. She would sit down and not be in a hurry or have anything else to do."

Framed at either end by Ruth's chapters, the central portion of The Bonesetter's Daughter takes place in China in the remote, mountainous region where anthropologists discovered Peking Man in the 1920s. Here superstition and tradition rule over a succession of tiny villages. And here LuLing grows up under the watchful eye of her hideously scarred nursemaid, Precious Auntie. As she makes clear, it's not an enviable setting:

I noticed the ripe stench of a pig pasture, the pockmarked land dug up by dragon-bone dream-seekers, the holes in the walls, the mud by the wells, the dustiness of the unpaved roads. I saw how all the women we passed, young and old, had the same bland face, sleepy eyes that were mirrors of their sleepy minds.
Nor is rural isolation the worst of it. LuLing's family, a clan of ink makers, believes itself cursed by its connection to a local doctor, who cooks up his potions and remedies from human bones. And indeed, a great deal of bad luck befalls the narrator and her sister GaoLing before they can finally engineer their escape from China. Along the way, familial squabbles erupt around every corner, particularly among mothers, daughters, and sisters. And as she did in her earlier The Joy Luck Club, Amy Tan uses these conflicts to explore the intricate dynamic that exists between first-generation Americans and their immigrant elders. --Victoria Jenkins --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

In its rich character portrayals and sensitivity to the nuances of mother-daughter relationships, Tan's new novel is the real successor to, and equal of, The Joy Luck Club. This luminous and gripping book demonstrates enhanced tenderness and wisdom, however; it carries the texture of real life and reflects the paradoxes historical events can produce. Ruth Young is a 40-ish ghostwriter in San Francisco who periodically goes mute, a metaphorical indication of her inability to express her true feelings to the man she lives with, Art Kamen, a divorced father of two teenage daughters. Ruth's inability to talk is subtly echoed in the story of her mother LuLing's early life in China, which forms the long middle section of the novel. Overbearing, accusatory, darkly pessimistic, LuLing has always been a burden to Ruth. Now, at 77, she has Alzheimer's, but luckily she had recorded in a diary the extraordinary events of her childhood and youth in a small village in China during the years that included the discovery nearby of the bones of Peking Man, the Japanese invasion, the birth of the Republic and the rise of Communism. LuLing was raised by a nursemaid called Precious Auntie, the daughter of a famous bonesetter. Once beautiful, Precious Auntie's face was burned in a suicide attempt, her mouth sealed with scar tissue. When LuLing eventually learns the secrets of Precious Auntie's tragic life, she is engulfed by shame and guilt. These emotions are echoed by Ruth when she reads her own mother's revelations, and she finally understands why LuLing thought herself cursed. Tan conjures both settings with resonant detail, juxtaposing scenes of rural domestic life in a China still ruled by superstition and filial obedience, and of upscale California half a century later. The novel exhibits a poignant clarity as it investigates the dilemma of adult children who must become caretakers of their elderly parents, a situation Tan articulates with integrity and exemplary empathy for both generations. Agent, Sandy Dijkstra. (Feb. 19) Forecast: With a readership already clamoring for the book, and Tan embarking on a 22-city tour, this novel will be a sure hit; its terrific sepia-tinted cover photo of a woman in old China only adds to its allure. Moreover, readers will be intrigued by Tan's hint that this story about family secrets is semi-autobiographical. The dedication reads: "On the last day my mother spent on earth, I learned her real name, as well as that of my grandmother."
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Mass Market Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books; Reprint edition (January 29, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0804114986
  • ISBN-13: 978-0804114981
  • Product Dimensions: 4.2 x 1.1 x 6.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (497 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #697,394 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By David Lister on February 21, 2001
Format: Hardcover
The Bonesetter's Daughter is a wonderful example of Amy Tan's considerable skill as a master storyteller. Here she exposes to us, layer by layer, the deeply complex relationship between Ruth Young, a ghostwriter of self-help books, and her mother, LuLing.
Realizing she is having problems with her memory long before Ruth suspects it, Luling painstakingly writes the facts of her life as best she remembers it, so that her story doesn't die with her failing memory.
The start and finish of this novel, which chronicles Ruth's struggle in coming to terms with her mother througout her life and Ruth's stumbling upon LuLing's memoirs, frame the middle section of the book, which consist of the memoirs themselves.
I found the novel absolutely fascinating, and read through it in a single sitting.
Two mother-daughter stories are presented here, as the relationship between LuLing and her mother are also central to the telling of this wonderful story. Amy Tan does a superb job of presenting these separate yet connected narratives into a masterpiece of a book, blending character, dialogue, and narrative seemlessly (and seemingly effortlessly) together.
Readers of the author's previous novels will find similarity between The Bonesetter's Daughter and her previous novels. Some readers, as I, will find everything comfortably familiar. On the other hand, it is only fair to criticize the formulaic sameness of her work. The repeated exploration of the relationship between a Chinese-born mother and her american born daughter is a bit off-putting; as is the parallel telling of two generation's narrative. Also, I don't find that her male characters are realistically drawn, and the relationship struggles between the daughter and her significant other (at least in Ms. Tan's last two books) seem rather superficial.
These (admittedly) rather minor complaints are the only thing that keeps me from giving the book five stars.
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Format: Hardcover
I purchased this book when it was first released (I'd become a fan of Amy Tan's books having read the other three before), and then just out of curiosity decided to check the reviews of it here at amazon to catch a glimpse of what I was getting into. I'm sad to say that many of the reviews readers gave "The Bonesetter's Daughter", of it being a "rehashing of the same story" and such made me prejudiced towards it, and I put down the book for a few weeks. Pure boredom this past weekend made me finally resolve to give it a try anyway, and I could barely stop to put it down. Sure, it can be argued that the bulk of Ms. Tan's books focus on the mother-daughter relationship dynamic and of past wrongs done to them by men of their pasts...but I think that part of the reason why she's sucessfully been able to transform these themes into their own unique story every time, is because they deal with a part of history in which several different cultures can find kinship. The fact is that Amy Tan is a master of capturing true human emotion in her characters' lives, that touches the reader in a very poigniant way. And this one is no exception. "The Bonesetter's Daughter" has now become my favorite of Amy Tan's novels, and I just moments ago finished it and passed it along to my own mother telling her that she "MUST read this book right away!" I'd like to extend the same recommendation to everyone else who is considering taking up "The Bonesetter's Daughter" as well. Luyi--*all that you wish*
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Format: Hardcover
In "The Bonesetter's Daughter," set in San Francisco and in North China, Amy Tan tells the story of Ruth Young and her mother, LuLing, in a story that reflects much of her own background. In the story, Ruth is a successful "book doctor," a ghostwriter who translates other people's thoughts into a coherent book--a skill at which she is adept. She is the "as told to" name below the author's, although the real creative effort is her own.

Like Amy Tan herself, Ruth is in her forties, and the similarities do not stop there. While the book is not strictly autobiographical, there are a great many parallels between the author and Ruth. For example: both of their mothers were stricken with Altzheimers disease, and both had stormy relationships with their Chinese mothers, both of whom were suicidal.

Ruth's mother, LuLing, came from China in the late 'forties, as did Amy Tan's mother. The story is told in three parts: first is Ruth's ten-year relationship with Art and his two daughters--teenagers in the story--with whom she lives; a relationship that is in trouble for reasons that Ruth cannot determine or resolve. Art seems to be a self-centered individual who takes advantage of Ruth's tendency to always place her own interests secondary.

The second part of the story is LuLing's own story in China, which, fearing memory loss, she is writing, in Chinese calligraphy and which she eventually presents to her daughter. Ruth, because of their difficult relationship lets the manuscript gather dust for seven years, untranslated. LuLing's life story is a tale of tragedy and suffering, lost love and a tempestuous relationship with her own mother, Precious Auntie, which later--after her mother's death--haunts her.
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