- Series: Ballantine Reader's Circle
- Paperback: 400 pages
- Publisher: Ballantine Books; Reprint edition (February 4, 2003)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0345457374
- ISBN-13: 978-0345457370
- Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.9 x 8.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars See all reviews (581 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #57,764 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Bonesetter's Daughter: A Novel (Ballantine Reader's Circle) Paperback – February 4, 2003
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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 the Library Binding edition.
From Publishers Weekly
Tan's empathetic insight into the complex relationship of Chinese mothers and their American-born daughters is again displayed in her latest extraordinary, multi-layered tale. Now suffering from Alzheimer's, Lu Ling's references to the past are confusing and contradictory particularly her desperate attempts to communicate with her deceased Precious Auntie, who was her nursemaid and Ruth worries about her mother's health. But when Ruth translates Lu Ling's lengthy journal, she learns that her mother was once a strong-willed, courageous girl who overcame a background of family secrets and lies, persevered despite romantic heartbreak and survived tremendous hardships and suffering in war-torn China. Tan deftly handles narrative duties as Ruth, the exasperated but loving daughter, while Chen is perfect as the quick-speaking, accented Lu Ling. Lu Ling's first-person diary is particularly suited to audio: we hear the young girl directly reveal her secret hopes and dreams, and watch her grow from a naive innocent to a sharp-eyed survivor. Simultaneous release with the Putnam hardcover (Forecasts, Dec. 4).
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.--This text refers to the Library Binding edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
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.
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.
Finally, in the third section the focus is on Ruth and what she does with her new knowledge. The crux of the novel, however, is the second part: the story of LuLing in China, her turbulent relationship with her mother, and the war-torn environment of China in the 'forties.
The story is about relationships, and the search by both LuLing and Ruth for their family's Chinese background, which is enveloped in mystery involving, among other things, the discovery, which actually took place in 1929-1937, of the bones of Homo-erectus, also known as Peking man, which were found in a cave at Zhoukoudian, near Peiping (now known as Beijing).
Amy Tan has drawn on her own experiences to create her characters. In fact, in an interview with Nita Lelyveld, she says that her own mother was her muse. She could hear her mother's voice saying the things that LuLing said, and that she "did her best never to listen to her mother." In a parallel to Ruth's relationship with LuLing, and in turn, LuLing's with her mother, she says "my mother drove me crazy,"
This is a sensitive, emotion-driven story about mothers and daughters, told by an excellent writer who has lived the things she writes about. Amy Tan is a woman writing about women. A wonderful story. It held my interest to the end.