Bonesetter's Daughter
by Tan, Amy

Struggling to regain her voice and express her true feelings to her husband, ghostwriter Ruth Young discovers that her inability to speak closely parallels the story of her mother LuLing's early life in China, where Ruth finds the famous bonesetter, a woman whose mouth was sealed shut during a suicide attempt.

The same fascination with mother-daughter relationships that made Tan's debut novel, The Joy Luck Club (1989), so captivating drives her newest, an even more polished and provocative work. Compulsively readable and beautifully structured around three richly metaphorical themes-bones, ghosts, and ink-this novel tells the stories of three generations of women, beginning at the turn of the twentieth century in a small Chinese village, where the bonesetter, a skilled healer, defies tradition and teaches his daughter everything he knows. Intelligent and willful, she vehemently rejects the marriage proposal of the vulgar coffinmaker, who curses her, thus setting in motion a tragic sequence of events that continues to unfold a century later in San Francisco, where a Chinese American woman finally reads the memoir her mother wrote for her. Although Ruth's a ghostwriter for New Agey self-help books, the advice she formulates hasn't helped her achieve genuine intimacy with her live-in boyfriend or cope with her argumentative mother, who has long been haunted by the ghost of a woman she calls Precious Auntie. Widowed since Ruth was a toddler, China-born and -raised calligraphy artist Luling still speaks stilted English in spite of decades of California life, and now she appears to be afflicted with Alzheimer's. As Ruth moves back home to care for Luling, she is assailed by memories of her own difficult childhood, then discovers that Precious Auntie, the bonesetter's daughter, is actually her grandmother. As Tan tells the spellbinding stories of these three strong, self-sacrificing women in this lucent novel of deep feelings and gentle humor, she weaves in stripes of vivid Chinese history, including the discovery of Peking Man, ponders what's bred in the bone, and celebrates the preservation of family history as an act of love and a conduit for forgiveness. Donna Seaman Copyright 2000 Booklist Reviews

Tan's fourth novel (and first in six years) wisely returns to the theme of mothers and daughters simultaneously estranged and bonded, a subject she treated so memorably in The Joy Luck Club (19xx) and The Kitchen God's Wife (19xx).Appropriately enough, there are two subtly interconnected stories here. The first is that of Chinese-American "ghost writer" (specializing in "inspirational and self-improvement books") Ruth Young, a workaholic in her mid-40s who's living with a divorced Wasp and his two adolescent daughters while dealing as best she can with her frail, elderly mother LuLing, whose imperfect assimilation into American culture is becoming exacerbated by encroaching Alzheimer's. The story within it is LuLing's written memoir of her childhood in avillage near Peking; orphanhood, marriage, and bereavement under Japanese invasion during WWII before she finally reinvented herself and emigrated to San Francisco; and especially her complex relationship with her "Precious Auntie," a victim of patriarchal oppression whose hold on LuLing's mind and heart long outlasts her death, and who proves to have been much more than the "nursemaid" who raised her. LuLing's frustrated efforts to learn the (occluded) truth about her origins is ingeniously linked to the archaeological searches that result in the discovery of "Peking Man"-a discovery later echoed by both Ruth's and LuLing's confrontations with confused and lost identities. The novel builds slowly, and a few sequences (including an overextended account of a visit to an assisted-living facility) seem inexplicably disproportionate. But the elaborate preparation pays generous dividends in the stunning final 50 or so pages: a beautifully modulated amalgam of grief, pride, resentment, and resignation-as Ruth accepts the consequences of knowing "She was her mother's child and mother to the child her mother had become."Tan strikes gold once again. Copyright 2000 Kirkus Reviews

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