Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan

"Once you are born Chinese, you cannot help but feel and think Chinese.
"'Someday you will see,' said my mother. 'It is in your blood, waiting to be let go.'"
--The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan

I first got the idea to re-read The Joy Luck Club when considering what books to send to Catherine.  This book is a long time favorite, but I read it so long ago I could only remember bits and pieces.  The Joy Luck Club is  a modern classic about Chinese mothers and their Chinese-American daughters and how they make sense of their lives outside of China. I think Catherine will enjoy it.

Four mothers and four daughters tell their stories which are connected only by the Joy Luck Club: a regular social gathering of the four mothers to eat and play Mah Jong.  I remembered each story, especially the mother's stories rooted in Chinese custom and lore, to be particularly fascinating.

After reading for a few minutes I realized with some sadness that the second reason for reading this book was to understand the wisdom of Chinese mothers which my daughter will never have the opportunity to hear.  I felt a little weepy when I realized that she would really be missing something important and perhaps those Chinese women scolding me in the park were really trying to tell me something besides put more clothing on your daughter.

The Chinese mothers portrayed in Ms. Tan's novel were full of stories of ancient times and proverbs to teach their American born daughters lessons about life.  I have often wished I had those tales at my disposal, ready to launch a life lesson at a moments notice.  Tessa would benefit from the wisdom of a Chinese mother.   They try to teach through story and metaphor.  Although I am romanticizing a bit, it felt a little like living and leading like a poet.

I don't mean to say she will be settling for me and my wisdom, I have plenty to go around, but there is something about the way these mothers approached life that made me think I need to start channeling my Chinese mother more.

The Joy Luck Club was fun to re-read, and I am going to pack it up today for Catherine.  Sometimes it is hard to keep track of the 8 different characters and their stories, but in total they do paint a picture of a complex emotional tension between mothers and daughters.  The first story in the book which is concluded at the end is easily the best and most bittersweet, but all the complexities of life for women and girls in China is very lovingly portrayed.

It is worth reading or reading again.  The movie is slightly different but also very good.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Undress me in the Temple of Heaven by Susan Jane Gilman

Greetings readers!  Glad to be back and writing about reading again.  As many of you know I have had quite the life changing adventure for the past few weeks.  I am here to report on the only thing I managed to read while on the road.  After this I hope to launch a short series on Chinese American fiction.  

A travel memoir about China could not have been more fitting for my recent trip to China to begin a new phase of my life.  Susan Jane Gilman has written a snappy modern day Heart of Darkness about descending madness while backpacking in China in 1986, shortly after the country opened it's doors to backpackers.  

Having some of the same places on my travel itinerary and feeling a little of the same  lost and disoriented feeling as Gilman did, I could really relate to her sense of lonliness and isolation.  I read it late into the night when I was too wired from jet lag.  I could not put it down.  Although I read and enjoy many travel narratives it is not often you can say you can not put one down.  

The most interesting parts of this were how fast and loose they were able to be with getting on flights and fudging passports in the pre-9-11 world.  This scene could never have happened today.  Also, it was a sobering reminder for me that while I was able to skype my friends back home in an instant, Ms Gilman and fellow backpacker Claire had never even heard of a lap top or email.  The best they could do was call collect.  Travel has gotten easier in so many ways.  

I gave this memoir to Catherine and hope she reads it and finds it compelling.  She seemed excited to receive it.  I'd love to hear your recommends both for travel memoir for me and Chinese American fiction to send to Catherine.