The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan
Four mothers, four daughters, four families, whose histories shift with the four winds depending on who’s telling the stories. In 1949, four Chinese women, recent immigrants to San Francisco, meet weekly to play mahjong and tell stories of what they left behind in China. United in loss and new hope for their daughters’ futures, they call themselves the Joy Luck Club. Their daughters, who have never heard these stories, think their mothers’ advice is irrelevant to their modern American lives – until their own inner crises reveal how much they’ve unknowingly inherited of their mothers’ pasts.
With wit and sensitivity, Amy Tan examines the sometimes painful, often tender, and always deep connection between mothers and daughters. As each woman reveals her secrets, trying to unravel the truth about her life, the strings become more tangled, more entwined. Mothers boast or despair over daughters, and daughters roll their eyes even as they feel the inextricable tightening of their matriarchal ties. Tan is an astute storyteller, enticing readers to immerse themselves into these lives of complexity and mystery.
The Joy Luck Club is one of those books that everyone has heard of, everyone has added to their TBR under some sort of shelf name like “books i should read” and everyone glances over in favor of the latest release with hype.
I’m not judging you. I’m guilty of the same.
I picked up a pristine first edition of this at a local rummage sale last year and had the foresight to put in on top of my dresser, which serves as a sort of physical TBR reminding me of all the books I should read before going on another one-click binge on Amazon.
It’s interesting, how stress effects our lives. So many of my friends are turning to fluffy rom-coms to see them through the pandemic, and I get that. Rom-coms are escapism at its finest.
I tried reading one two days ago and just couldn’t.
For some strange reason, I’ve been drawn to grittier books instead. Thrillers. Grimdark. And now, The Joy Luck Club. Which is ironic because it literally has the word “Joy” in the title.
That’s not to say that this is some heavy, depressing read. There is a lot of joy in this book. But there’s also a lot of hardship. This book centers on four Chinese women and their daughters. The mothers are immigrants, the children born in the US.
This was released in 1989 but it is still so relevant today. And because of the lack of pop culture references in the daughters’ stories, it reads like it could have been written today.
I Googled this book after finishing it and was surprised to see there was so much backlash against it. People painted Amy Tan as being racist against her own culture and of denigrating Asian men because they were negatively portrayed in this book.
But they weren’t all portrayed negatively. Some of the male Asian characters were incredibly kind, strong, and steadfast. As a side note, white men were equally shitty, if not more so, and a lot of the women were just as problematic as the men. In short, they read like real people.
And that’s because the author based this book on her own mother’s stories.
Here’s the thing modern readers need to know before they write this off before reading it based on old, negative reviews or Reddit threads. This book is loosely biographical. Tan’s experiences are not going to be the experiences of every Asian American.
The Joy Luck Club had a huge burden to bear. It was an incredibly popular book about Asian Americans at a time when there was very little representation. The same goes for the movie.
Which put the onus of representing an entire people on ONE person. And more importantly, one woman of color.
Even today women of color are expected to go above and beyond and be absolutely perfect in every single way to get a seat at the table. Yes, we are making headway, and yes, a larger percentage of the population understands that WoC are just as fallible and varied and complex and flawed as everyone else, but there is still so. Much. Progress. To. Be. Made.
Is it any wonder that back in 1989 Amy Tan was made a pariah?
As I write this, Asian and Asian American representation is increasing. In the Young Adult fiction category especially, not to mention blockbuster movies like Crazy Rich Asians.
Reading The Joy Luck Club now will likely only be one of many stories about Asian Americans for readers instead of THE ONE.
Is this book flawless? Nope. Are there some legit criticisms to be made against it? You betcha. The same can be said for all books. I am not in any way shape or form saying that people are not allowed to criticize this. But, in a broader sense,