The Joy Luck Club
Just finished this and want to talk to you all about it. Get your thoughts together and meet me in the comments.
I’m glad I read it. No book should be made The Definitive Story Of An Entire Race like this was made out to be in the ’90s (“ok ok you guys can have ONE book in the canon!” see also The House on Mango Street), but the stories it had to tell were certainly worth passing on and hearing.
The title is what tricked me into not reading this for so many years; I thought it’d taste like a mooncake. Nope. It was a bitter melon. The suffering was affecting me that reading a book about the Chinese Communist Party consistuted a halftime break. But bitter melons are healthy, and I eat them a lot, and I needed to eat this once since I’ll be a future ABC parent myself.
My favorite story was “The Red Candle”. I know the passage of cultural memory is the stated theme but the battle against patriarchy was where the real meat was. The characters take a lot of shit and close their arcs when they learn how to fight back against it. Besides the clueless white husbands, the naive boys and wicked old male and female power-abusing antagonists in China blended together so well they gave the impression the Japanese were merely the latest and biggest problem for a profoundly unhealthy society. (Putting more wind in the sails of my antipathy toward the Chinese ruling class, I might add.) In this book belief in the existence and power of ghosts is seemingly the only effective tool the weak have against the strong.”There’s so much suffering in this book,” I said. “That’s China,” Jean replied.”In the end she got back at them,” I said. “By dying,” Jean replied.
All the mother protagonists were World War II immigrants, and I thought more than once of how different they were from the highly educated, very filtered East Asian migrant population the US allowed in the decades afterward. Immigrants from Taiwan, for example, are more often than not privileged, not escapees. Anyway, those who ran away from suffering to the US came emotionally wounded and the unintentional effects of that on parenting are pretty clear in my opinion.
American and Chinese culture are set up as foils. Interestingly enough, the Chinese Culture defined here with flourishes of folk tales, feng shui, and the search for symbolism in the mundane has receded greatly since then not only in the States but also here in Taiwan and presumably in China as well as science and data have increased their influence. But if the redeeming power of ghosts leaves China what can replace it?
First Falun Gong, and now Christianity, it seems. In fact an honest portrayal of Chinese Christianity in America is what was really missing from the Joy Luck tapestry in my opinion. The characters are preoccupied with Eastern Culture VS Western Culture when the solution is to fulfill the best of both. However, contemporary Christian culture, on both sides of the Pacific, is still too westernized to make this avenue clear for many.
Anyway, the book settles on Family as The Answer and of course that’s a massive part of life that gives us a lot of joy and deserves more credit. It’s not Everything but it’s so much that I was moved to tears by the ending and enough to make for a satisfying read. Now let me know what you think.