Customer Reviews: The Bonesetter's Daughter
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on February 21, 2001
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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on March 12, 2001
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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on March 28, 2001
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.

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.

Joseph Pierre
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on March 5, 2001
I have been reading Amy Tan for years and years...not because I am a huge fan of hers, but I read her, and other Asian American writers in the hopes that one day we can be represented fairly.
The characters of Tan's novels all take on the same tired roles. There is always the protagonist who rebels against her Chinese upbringing until the mother who we are lead to believe is "wacky and off her gourd" spills her guts about her unbelievably tragic life in China and then the daughter finds her Chinese roots in the last pages of the book.
The mother either dies, or in this case, is shipped off to a nursing home.
The daughter always has a Caucasian boyfriend...not that there is anything wrong with that...but do all of the Asian men in Tan's books have to be evil misogynists? Or apathetic cads? Of course there may be a positive male character...but he is either an old father (who may or may not die during the course of the book) or he is the young mother's first love...and he usually dies...tragically...along the lines of "the last good man in China" syndrome...
I could go on and on about what I think is unoriginal and insulting about this book.
But the main issue I have with Tan's books (and I know this is supposed to be a review of "Bonesetter's Daughter" but I think that if you blur your vision, all of Tan's books read pretty much the same) is this:
The characters and plots come at you as being genuinely Asian...all the set dressing is there...but at closer examination, they aren't. Being Asian is just another plot device Tan adds that little something exotic that makes readers curious and makes readers think that they are getting a glimpse into the real thing. It's a disguise the book wears to hide the fact that it is a completely commercial book with little new to offer.
Many of my friends cannot read Amy Tan because of is insulting. It is heartbreaking to know that a writer of such immense talent continues to sell out pieces of her ethnic heritage for a bestseller. And it also hurts when non-Asians ask me what I think of the new Amy Tan and I have to say I was incredibly disappointed.
All we want is a truly representation...not the further promotion and exploitation of stereotypes.
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on March 5, 2001
By now, like it or not, Amy Tan has made an impressive mark in American literature. She is truly a gifted storyteller with a pair of sharp ears for fluid language and dialogues. Tan has captured the audience, both national and international, in 1989 with her clever and easy-to-read "Joy Luck Club." Subsequently, Tan continues to dazzle her readers with the more coherent "The Kitchen God's Wife" and the cartoonish and somewhat weak-plotted "A Hundred Secret Senses." However and fortunately, Tan once again recaptures her glory with "The Bonesetter's Daughter." "The Bonesetter's Daughter" is a touching portrait of a daughter searching for her mother's gradual loss of memory and history. Ruth, ironically, a ghostwriter of self-help books, begins to suspect that there is something wrong with her mother, LuLing, who meanwhile is grasping as much of her waning memory as possible. Tan, again, uses the themes of oral-telling and history to weave an important lesson of preserving one's heritage. Furthermore, having losing her own mother to Alzheimer in real life, Tan timely incorporates the vitally important theme of the dreadful disease. As usual, Tan's language is effortless and flowing like a zen waterfall -- smooth and consistent. "Yet I have memory of her telling me with her hands, I can see her saying this with her eyes.When it is dark, she says this to me in a clear voice I have never heard. She speaks in the language of shooting star" reads like a luminous lantern flickering behind the back of the reader. Symbollically, LuLing's memory is short but bright. Luling's part (II)is so powerfully written that it stands out by itself. For those critics who accuse Tan of rehashing the themes of mother-and-daughter, it is absolutely unfair and unsubstantiated. Yes, Tan has the annoying habit of portraying Asian/ Asian American men in such negative light (As an Asian American man, I cannot stand the movie version of the "Joy Luck Club"). However, to attack her for her themes is totally unnecessary. It is like persecuting William Faulkner for his writing of Mississippi or of the Sartoris clan, or Louise Erdrich of her Indian heritage, or John Updike of middle-class family tragedies. Nonetheless, what makes Tan's works less challenging than others is her too neat and conventional endings. Everything always ends predictably resolved, leaving no room for readers to ponder or soak in the emotion. Regardless, "The Bonesetter's Daughter" is a great book, perhaps her best yet. Racial politics aside, Amy Tan is a natural-born storyteller in the tradition of Willa Cather and Louise Erdrich.
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on August 8, 2001
I've been a fan of Amy Tan's since The Joy Luck Club. I've followed her through The Kitchen God's Wife and The Hundred Secret Senses but by and large The Bonesetter's Daughter is her best all around effort.
From two points of view we see the emergence of two daughters and two mothers and from different stages in life we can identify and embrace the innocence and indifference of childhood, the angst of young womanhood, and the pain of mother-daughter separation. Amy Tan's continued efforts at explaining the complex relationship between mothers and daughters is further understood in this novel as to how it can be affected by social, cultural and economical pressures.
I felt that in this book Amy found the best balance between past and present and that she magically blended the right amount of mysticism with reality. The author has a wise and ancient soul and through her writing we can explore places and histories that have long been erased from the maps and pages of today's history books.
Through the help of a translator, Ruth uncovers her mother's memoirs and discovers the life her mother led as a child and young woman. Ruth finds that although now weakened by age and illness her mother (LuLing) is not the woman she thought she was and through the gift of LuLing's memoirs, Ruth is able to see her mother for all of the things she has been, and not just what she has become.
LuLing's headstrong determination as a child, her intelligence and strength as a young woman and her willingness to do whatever was necessary to create a better life for herself, for her family and eventually for Ruth are qualities to be admired. I quickly came to care for her character and was moved by her courage. Although pleased with the neatness in which the novel was completed, I was saddened that I had finished the book and will look forward to reading it again.
Clearly, the heartache and the joy of motherhood are interwoven and from this tapestry we can discover that the basis for our relationships today were fabricated long before we ever lived.
It is with this hindsight that we can only begin to piece together those parts of ourselves and our relationships that aren't quite yet complete. Ruth finds this. I did too.
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on April 29, 2001
The Bonesetter's Daughter by Amy Tan
In the Bonesetter's Daughter Amy Tan has deftly woven the contrasting lives of Ruth, an American woman of Chinese descent, and Ruth's mother, LuLing, a Chinese woman who fled to the United States after the communists gained control of China. Ruth and her mother had spent much of their lives arguing and failing to understand one another, and now, as Ruth's mother begins slip into dementia caused by Alzheimer's, Ruth realizes that she has only a short while to try to understand her mother.
When she realizes her mother's memory is slipping, Ruth finally has some papers that her mother had written in Chinese and given her to read several years earlier translated into English so that she can read them, and learns the secrets her mother has hidden all these years. This story of the family's life in China is the heart of the book, and would be worth reading by itself, but interweaving of this plot with Ruth's life turns a good book into a great book. We see Ruth mature as her mother's illness rips Ruth from her comfortable middle-class existence. We see the huge contrasts in the lives of these Chinese-American women in just two generations, and realize how difficult it is for one generation to truly understand each other. It is here that the book gains its universality-- none of us can truly know our parents for they grew up in a time that is lost to us, like Ruth's mother they keep secrets, and they try to protect their children and give them easier lives. Unfortunately it is often only in our parents' old age that we have the maturity to begin to understand them.
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Ms. Tan has written a monumental novel of the 20th century Chinese immigrants' challenges. The book offers many insights into how children can better integrate into their families by understanding their elders' experiences rather than trying to be totally independent of those experiences. The Bonesetter's Daughter also provides rich food for thought about what the relationships should be between women and men, and parents and their children. The book employs a recycling narrative that will remind the reader of opening up nested Russian dolls.
Ruth Young finds that her mother is failing, especially with her memory. Already busy with a life as a ghostwriter and taking care of her boyfriend and his children, Ruth feels overwhelmed.
A few years earlier, her mother had become interested in passing along some of her heritage and had given Ruth a document written in Chinese. Because Ruth does not read Chinese well, she had put the documents aside. As her mother's mental condition deteriorates, she finds her mother's mind disturbed by having forgotten her mother's real name. Looking through some old papers, she finds another document written in Chinese about things her mother does not want to forget. Hoping to help, Ruth arranges for the documents to be translated.
The bulk of the book then recounts her mother's history in China and in the United States. These experiences were rich and varied, and reading about them will fascinate you.
Addressing the issues raised by solving the question of Ruth's grandmother's name causes Ruth to grow and evolve in her own relationships.
The book is filled with rich themes that are explored from many different dimensions. For example, ghosts are real and important to Ruth's mother, LuLing Young. As a young child, LuLing decides that the ghost of her mother resides in Ruth. To appease her mother, Ruth plays along and answers her mother's questions. You will be fascinated and amused by the results of these discussions. Since Ruth is also a ghostwriter, you will get a new perspective on how ideas are expressed and perceived. Who the author is counts, as well as the content. The author adds credibility so that the information is acted on, and the content either provides good or not so good advice. The story validates both the mother's and the daughter's views of ghosts.
If you are unfamiliar with the history of mainland China in the first half of the 20th century, Ms. Tan's book will give you many of the important outlines as they were experienced at the local level. You will encounter the shift away from binding women's feet, the beginnings of education for women, the falling off of the old crafts and beliefs, the effects of drug addiction on families, the influence of Christian missionaries, scientific investigations of human evolution, and the development of new ways for women and men to marry and relate to one another.
You will be fascinated by the many echoes of the experiences that LuLing had with her mother, and those that Ruth had with LuLing. I was reminded by this of how much of our parenting styles we learn from our parents, for good or for ill. So we have a behavioral heritage as well as a genetic one.
The book's story-telling style is gracious and smooth-flowing, not unlike putting your hand in a warm, pristine stream in the mountains. You will feel yourself gently pulled along in a way that you will enjoy. I was reminded of the way my mother would tell me stories when I was a child.
The Bonesetter's Daughter is beautiful, delightful, and enlightening. What more could one ask for from a novel?
After you finish the book, be sure to learn all you can about your ancestors from those who are alive and knew them well. You will probably find many wonderful connections to yourself and your own issues that will help you.
This is an outstanding book for a book club to read. You will find many interesting questions for discussion here. In particular, you won't be able to decide what some of the story means until you discuss those aspects with someone.
Follow your beliefs . . . wherever they take you!
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on May 21, 2001
I am a fan of Amy Tan and have read all her previous works. I heard about her new book "The Bonesetter's daughter" long before its publication and was eager to read it. Unfortunately, after reading it, I feel let down. In part one of this book, the author describes the cultural conflict between an eccentric Chinese immigrant woman and her American-born daughter in great detail. (This has been a recurrent theme in her previous books.) The fact that the mother's eccentricity is currently aggravated by Alzheimer's disease makes the narrative more dramatic, but not interesting enough to fill 149 pages. The second part of the book is about the family's past. I found the subject matter uniquely interesting, the story-telling captivating and the writing characteristically fluid. But for me, a person born and raised in China and educated in the States, the book does not describe a China that I am familiar with. Ms. Tan's China is overflowing with quirky Chinese sayings and bizarre superstitions. The book contains truthful facts about Chinese culture and histroy, but they tend to be exaggerated and so intertwined with fantasies as to make it all seem fictional. While Ms. Tan's approach to the subject matter is interesting and highly successful, I prefer to read books that impart a strong sense of reality. In " The bonesetter's daughter", I didn't feel I was reading the story of real people in a real world, but rather I felt I was in a fantasy, like an Anne Rice Vampire novel or a Harry Potter book. For me, reading this book was like watching a beautiful woman put on heavy make-up and strange costume; it spoils her true beauty, and, in the end, seems unnecessay.
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on March 20, 2001
Amy Tan created a brilliant novel with realistic characters and an engaging plot. The Bonesetters daughter follows present day, Ruth as she struggles in her relationships with Art, her significant other; her mother, LuLing; and most importantly, herself.
Luling is a very traditional Chinese woman who is living with a dreadful past of her own. Luling struggles to identify with her daughter Ruth. As Luling is developing dementia she decides to record her history on paper as her mother did for her. Ruth dismissed the memoir until many years later when she had it translated and discovered her mother's past as well as her grandmother's (Precious Auntie) past. Through this memoir, Ruth discovered the truth about the women in her family and the truth for herself.
Amy Tan created very strong women and their journey and trials will attest to their nature of survival. The Bonesetters Daughter was by far one of the best books that I have encountered.
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