The Joy Luck Club

The Joy Luck Club - Amy Tan In the 1940s, four women recently arrived in San Francisco from China start a joy luck club, a chance to get together over dim sum and mah jong and discuss their lives. As they raise their children the gap between Chinese and American culture becomes more apparent and there are many mother daughter clashes. The mothers demand the obedience and ambition of Chinese culture but the daughters tend to want the freedom of the American. Fourty years later, Jing-Mei Woo takes up her mother's place at the mah jong table following her death. Only by listening to the stories of the older women does she discover that there was much more to her mother than she ever realised. In her rush to flee the Japanese invaders, her mother was forced to abandon her two young daughters, sisters that Jing-Mei never knew she had. Her journey to China to meet them sets her on a path to reconcile her Chinese and American backgrounds.The Joy Luck Club is an excellent rendering of the immigrant experience. By choosing to focus on four mothers and four daughters, Tan covers in detail what it is like to be a first or second generation immigrant to America and how difficult it can be to pass on your culture in a different country. As a reader you feel for both the mothers and the daughters;"They are frightened. In me, they see their own daughters, just as ignorant, just as unmindful of all the truths and hopes they bought to America. They see daughters who grow impatient when their mothers talk in Chinese, who think they are stupid when they explain things in fractured English. They see daughters who will bear grandchildren born without any connecting hope passed from generation to generation."Although the daughters were easier for me as a Westerner to relate to, the stories of their mothers were more interesting. The fourth part of the book, Queen Mother of the Western Skies, is all about their lives in China before immigrating to America and this was the most fascinating part. I was expecting the book to feel a little dated given that it was initially published in the 1980s but this wasn't the case at all. The actual experiences of the women might have been time-linked but The Joy Luck Club is about more than just that, it's about mother-daughter relationships too and that theme was universal enough to make the book stand the test of time.The only problem I had with the book was linked to one of its strengths. I liked that many stories were included as this covered the immigrant experience so well but at times The Joy Luck Club felt more like a collection of short stories rather than a novel. There's a list of mothers and daughters provided at the beginning but I did find it hard to keep all of the characters straight and especially to remember who was related to who. I had to keep flipping through the book to find out which mother experience matched with this daughter experience and that was frustrating at times. Organising the book by generation was a good choice in many ways but the consequence was that at times it was hard to link the characters.Overall, I'm glad that I finally picked up The Joy Luck Club. It's deservedly a classic amongst books about immigration to the West and all of the stories in it were engaging and well written.