Why should you read “The Joy Luck Club” by Amy Tan? – Sheila Marie Orfano

Why should you read “The Joy Luck Club” by Amy Tan? – Sheila Marie Orfano


In her Auntie An-mei’s home, Jing-Mei reluctantly takes her seat at
the eastern corner of the mahjong table. At the north, south, and west
corners are her aunties, long-time members of the Joy Luck Club. This group of immigrant families comes
together weekly to trade gossip, feast on wonton and sweet chaswei,
and play mahjong. However, the club’s founder, Jing-mei’s
mother Suyuan, has recently passed away. At first, Jing-mei struggles to fill her
place at the table. But when her aunties reveal a deeply
buried secret about Suyuan’s life, Jing-Mei realizes she still has a lot to
learn about her mother, and herself. In Amy Tan’s 1989 debut novel,
“The Joy Luck Club,” this gathering at the mahjong table
is the point of departure for a series of interconnected vignettes. The book itself is loosely structured
to imitate the format of the Chinese game. Just as mahjong is played over four
rounds with at least four hands each, the book is divided into four parts,
each with four chapters. Alternately set in China
or San Francisco, each chapter narrates a single
story from one of the four matriarchs of the Joy Luck Club or their
American-born daughters. These stories take the reader through
war zones and villages of rural China, and into modern marriages and tense
gatherings around the dinner table. They touch upon themes of survival
and loss, love and the lack of it, ambitions and their unsatisfied reality. In one, Auntie Lin plots an escape
from the hostile family of her promised husband, ultimately leading to her
arrival in America. In another, the Hsu family’s all-American
day at the beach turns dire when Rose is overwhelmed by the
responsibility her mother assigns to her. The resulting tragedy traumatizes
the family for years to come. These tales illustrate the common
divides that can form between generations and cultures,
especially in immigrant families. The mothers have all experienced great
hardships during their lives in China, and they’ve worked tirelessly
to give their children better opportunities in America. But their daughters feel weighed down
by their parent’s unfulfilled hopes and high expectations. Jing-Mei feels this pressure as she plays
mahjong with her mother’s friends. She worries, “In me, they see their
own daughters, just as ignorant, just as unmindful of all the truths
and hopes they have brought to America.” Time and again, the mothers strive to remind their
daughters of their history and heritage. Meanwhile, their daughters
struggle to reconcile their mothers’ perception of them
with who they really are. “Does my daughter know me?”
some of the stories ask. “Why doesn’t my mother understand?”
others respond. In her interrogation of these questions, Tan speaks to anxieties that
plague many immigrants, who often feel both alienated
from their homeland and disconnected from their
adopted country. But by weaving the tales of these
four mothers and daughters together, Tan makes it clear that Jing-Mei and
her peers find strength to tackle their present-day problems through the
values their mothers passed on to them. When “The Joy Luck Club”
was first published, Tan expected minimal success. But against her predictions,
the book was a massive critical and commercial achievement. Today, these characters still
captivate readers worldwide. Not only for the way they speak
to Chinese American and immigrant experiences, but also for uncovering a deeper truth: the need to be seen and understood
by the ones you love.

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