The Joy Luck Club

by Amy Tan

Paper Book, 1989





New York : Putnam's, c1989.


In 1949, four Chinese women--drawn together by the shadow of their past--begin meeting in San Francisco to play mah jong, invest in stocks and "say" stories. They call their gathering the Joy Luck Club--and forge a relationship that binds them for more than three decades.

Media reviews

In Tan's hands, these linked stories - diverse as they are - fit almost magically into a powerfully coherent novel, whose winning combination of ingredients - immigrant experience, mother-daughter ties, Pacific Rim culture - make it a book with the ``good luck'' to be in the right place at the right time.
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In the hands of a less talented writer such thematic material might easily have become overly didactic, and the characters might have seemed like cutouts from a Chinese-American knockoff of ''Roots.'' But in the hands of Amy Tan, who has a wonderful eye for what is telling, a fine ear for dialogue, a deep empathy for her subject matter and a guilelessly straightforward way of writing, they sing with a rare fidelity and beauty. She has written a jewel of a book.

User reviews

LibraryThing member lit_chick
“The East is where things begin, my mother once told me, the direction from which the sun rises, where the wind comes from.” (33)

In 1949, four Chinese immigrant women, all living in San Francisco, gather regularly to play mah jong, invest in stocks, eat dim sum, and “say” stories: hence the Joy Luck Club is born. Some forty years later, one of the members, Suyuan Woo, has died; and her daughter has come to take her place at the mah jong table. It is here the novel begins. As Jing-mei “June” Woo sits in for her mother, the women are impelled to reach back into time and remember. The elders “say” their stories of personal and family histories in China. The younger generation, of course, the American-born daughters of the four women, also have their own stories to tell. The result: a novel unfolds which is a beautifully rich tapestry of the complexities of mother-daughter relationships across cultural experiences.

This is an impressive debut novel! Tan writes about what is lost and what is saved – over the years, between generations and among friends. Structurally, The Joy Luck Club is written in four parts, each of which has four vignettes. Two of the novel’s parts tell the mothers’ stories, and the other two parts are the daughters’ narrations. Highly recommended, particularly for readers who enjoy a story about the immigrant experience.

“And then it occurs to me. They are frightened. In me, they see their own daughters, just as ignorant, just as unmindful of all the truths and hopes they have brought to America …They see that joy and luck do not mean the same to their daughters, that to these closed American-born minds "joy luck" is not a word, it does not exist. They see daughters who will bear grandchildren born without any connecting hope passed from generation to generation.” (40)
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LibraryThing member JoClare
The story begins after the death of June's mother when her father asks her to take her mother's place in the monthly mah jong game with the "aunties", her mother's closest friends. Called "The Joy Luck Club" by the ladies who also use the game time to plan financial investments, "Joy Luck" symbolizes the merging of their hopes and cultures in this new land.

June reluctantly agrees, and during the game the aunties urge her to travel to China to meet her long lost twin sisters, and share with them the reasons that their mother had to leave them behind in China. June perceives the aunties are insecure regarding their own relationships with their daughter's, and promises to find her long lost sister's and tell them about their mother. So opens the stories of June and her mother Suyuan, along with the stories of An-Mei and daughter Rose, Ying-Ying and daughter Lena and Lindo and her daughter Waverly.

The lives of these women give us a glimpse of what it means to be a Chinese-American. The mothers all grew up in China where made difficult and often heart-breaking choices that profoundly shaped their lives, before eventually meeting each other and emigating to America, where they share one hope, that their daughters will benefit from all they have experienced .

The Joy Luck Club's American-born daughters tell of growing up in a land very differant from those their mother's experienced. They have little comprehension of their mothers early lives and see them as unskilled in American ways and a constant source of embarrasment and guilt. The mothers want their daughters to remember where they came from, the daughters want their mothers to accept them for who they are.

The intertwined stories of The Joy Luck Club take the reader on a journey that opens the mind and captures the heart.
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LibraryThing member mrsdwilliams
Tan's glorious novel portrays the complex relationships between four mothers (all Chinese immigrants) and their American-born daughters. Each of the mothers came to America as young women who had survived tragedy in their native China. In their efforts to create better lives for their daughters, they created many misunderstandings as well. The daughters struggle for independence, but also long for their mothers' love and understanding.

The novel is complex, especially since there are so many major characters. However, it is well worth the effort to keep everyone straight. This novel doesn't only speak to the experience of immigrants; mothers and daughters everywhere should read this book.

Highly recommended!
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LibraryThing member cmbohn
I am the mother of two teenage girls. I am also a daughter. This means that the whole mother-daughter relationship is one that I have given a lot of thought and energy. Being where I am in my life, I read The Joy Luck Club with a very different perspective from the time I first read it.

Jing-Mei Woo learns that her mother had a family before the one she has now, complete with a soldier husband and twin baby girls. With the war in China bringing such danger and uncertainty, her mother takes her babies and flees into the countryside. But her strength begins to fail and she makes the difficult decision to leave the girls, along with everything she owns, and hopes that someone will find them and take care of them.

But life doesn't work the way she expected. She survives. For years, she knows nothing about the fate of her daughters. She remarries and has another baby daughter. Then she learns that her twins have survived. She tries to contact them, she plans a visit. But she dies before she can make that trip.

All of this takes place early in the book. The rest of the book focuses on lives of 8 women, mothers and daughters. The mothers have lives and stories to tell that their daughters have never heard.

I enjoyed this book, if it was not quite so emotional for me as it was the first time I read it. Instead it just reminded me of how complicated this relationship is and how much I need to work on it.
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LibraryThing member Bababernice
What else can I say, its a beautiful book.
Each story surprises me, weaves a beautiful tale of these 8 women and keeps me turning the pages. Absolutely beautiful.
LibraryThing member laytonwoman3rd
Four immigrant Chinese women (the four corners of the Mah Jong board--the four directions---the four winds) and their American daughters tell us about their lives. Sometimes we get varying versions of the same events from different generations; sometimes friends of the same generation give us conflicting perspectives; at least once I felt great sympathy for one character only to have another character present her in a very unflattering light. It took a little time to get into the swing of the alternating intertwined stories, but I like that sort of thing, so I persisted. Yes, this book asks something of the reader---nothing wrong with that. The daughters all seemed to feel their mothers were tough on them, whether they fully understood their mothers' histories or not. The mothers all felt their daughters were losing something vital by rejecting "the Chinese way" they struggled to teach. In the end, the myth and the magic of the ancient culture cannot be denied, and each young American woman must learn to embrace her heritage in her own way.
November 2016
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LibraryThing member jacketscoversread
My mom insisted I read The Joy Luck Club, but it was only after I saw it on the AP Lit reading list that I decided to concede to my mother’s request. And I’m glad I did because The Joy Luck Club is a beautifully written book that’s insightful without coming across as overly academic and stuffy.

“And even though I taught my daughter the opposite, still she came out the same way! Maybe it is because she was born to me and she born a girl. And I was born to my mother and I was born a girl. All of sue are like stairs, one step after another, going up and down, but all going the same way.” {pg. 215}

Amy Tan’s writing style really drawls you in and she does a fantastic job of establishing voices for all eight characters, no easily feat I’m sure. True, twice I had to check the name to make sure I was connecting the right mother and daughter, but each character is clearly their own person with their own experiences and struggles.

“And I want to tell her this: We are lost, she and I, unseen and not seeing, unheard and not hearing, unknown by others.” {pg. 67}

Obviously, based on the back cover blurb, The Joy Luck Club is about mother-daughter relationships. But despite being completely rooted in Chinese culture, I could still understand what Tan was trying to explain through each of the mother’s relationships with their respective daughters.

“But inside I am becoming ashamed. I am ashamed she is ashamed. Because she is my daughter and I am proud of her, and I am her mother but she I not proud of me.” {pg. 255}

Still, some of women’s stories bored me and a couple frustrated me with their “do as I say, not as I do” attitudes. I realize that this is a somewhat common philosophy among mothers {Err, not you, Mom}, but I couldn’t help but to yell at these women for criticizing their own daughters as they chose their own courses, when some of them did the exact same thing in China.
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LibraryThing member Reader1066
I know that I said I was going to read A Long, Long Way, but it just didn’t grab me. I made it all they way through the first chapter and went, “Eh.” But the idea of that book sound interesting enough that I might go back it sometime.

So, now I’m reading The Joy Luck Club, one my favorites that I haven’t read in a long time. What I’ve always liked about Amy Tan is way that she can make Chinese and Chinese-American culture come to life. She can recreate the naunces of the language and the everyday philosophy of China. It’s incredible. I’ve never seen anyone that can analyze their own culture in such a way that things get explained without a lot of expository prose that bogs the story down.

Whenever I encounter a book where the characters are from a completely different culture from me–every Amy Tan book I’ve read, John Burdett’s books about Detective Sonchay Jitpleecheep, or Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart–I find myself reexamining my position on cultural relativism. In the main, I think that all cultures (with a few exceptions) are equally good. If they work, they’re good; if they don’t, they need to get replaced with something that works. But some of the ideas in Chinese culture that get portrayed here (like daughters-in-law being servants to their inlaws, teaching girls to “swallow sorrow,” etc.) disturb me. But on the otherhand, listening to pop psychology and such makes me think that everyone needs to learn to swallow a little sorrow and stop whinging about their lives and go and change the things they don’t like.

I always come back to the same position, though. Any culture that isn’t your own is going to seem weird. You often don’t understand how people in other cultures think. And people in other cultures probably think the same thing about us. With some exceptions, I think that all cultures and cultural practices are equally valid ways to live.

But I do like books that make me reexamine my ideas about things. I think it keeps them fresh. And it keeps my on my toes, so that if cultural relativism comes up in conversations (and I work in academia, so this sort of thing happens to me more than most), I can succinctly argue my position.

Though I really enjoy reading The Joy Luck Club, I always come out of it feeling somewhat disappointed. The whole book is about mothers and daughers understanding each other and reconciling and learning about each other. Ying-ying teaches her daughter Lena to be a tiger instead of just taking what other people give her. Lindo and Waverly learn that no every comment is meant to wound. An-mei tries to teach her daughter Rose to fight for things instead of just letting them go.

But the fourth mother-daughter pairing, Suyuan and Jing-mei, you never get a reconciliation because Tan used Suyuan’s death as a catalyst for the plot. While Jing-mei learns to understand what motivated her mother, we never get that moment of reconciliation. It’s just too late for them. Because of this, the book feels unbalanced and a little incomplete to me.

Still, this is a really well written book. If you cry during stories about families, this one will make you cry.
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LibraryThing member magst
My first Amy Tan book. I loved it! I plowed through it in one day and was very sad to see it end.
LibraryThing member kawgirl
I could see echoes of the women in my own family through the words of this book. The stories are gripping and give insight into women's life in China in the early 20th century. A good read. You might shed a few tears.
LibraryThing member francescadefreitas
I expected this to be over-hyped, but I found it quite gripping. The style, connected short stories, held my attention better than a novel concerning the same characters would have.

I did have to flick back to the table of contents quite often, to remind myself of the family relationships - my memory at fault, not the book.… (more)
LibraryThing member MissLizzy
Most of the boys in my English class sophomore year of high school called this a "chick book." and stated that it was terrible because most of the guys were portrayed as jerks--and it's true. But that doesn't make the book any less good. I love all of it, but all the stories of the lives of the older mothers are my favorite.
LibraryThing member ChishioTennyo
This is technically a reread, but it was so long ago I'm counting it as a 2006 book. It's part of the curriculum for 9th grade, which I've been told I'm teaching next year. Well, it's optional curriculum. Probably about the "immigrant experience" which has become a HUGE part of 9th grade.

Anyway, it's a story of mothers and daughters -- specifically, Chinese mothers and their Chinese-American daughters. Culture clash, misunderstandings, and children who flout the old ways in favor of McDonalds. It is told from everyone's point of view, every mother, every daughter, gets their own first-person chapters. It is a narrative in the true sense, the stories are tight, but it is told in the "real world" sense of meandering speech. Honestly, since I'm in the middle of The Kitchen God's Wife, I think that real world-style narration is Tan's best asset.

The story is told fluidly, beautiful prose that actually sings. The characters, since you hear their own voice and then see them as others see them, seem to be true people. My only problem is that there are so many characters it is hard to flesh them out in the page restriction.

What I really enjoyed were the glimpses into Chinese ideas and manners. "Bite back your tongue" has become my mantra. Not over important stuff, like how I'm treated by others, but when I'm annoyed at stupid things, I repeat it to myself so I don't exacerbate an already bad situation.

All in all, I really enjoyed this book. Maybe because I like to break out of my white-flight-suburbanized area and study the cultures that really interest me. 4.5 stars :)
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LibraryThing member brose72
Story of relationships in Chinese families. An interesting looking glass at Chinese-American culture. the flashbacks to the lives of the mothers in China is a highlight in the book. well written.
LibraryThing member meitel1551
This is a very enjoyable read. This great book portrays four Chinese-American families and the traditions and bonds they share among themselves, especially between mother and daughter. It taught me a lot about Chinese culture through an excellent story.
LibraryThing member stipe168
she has a firm handle on the conflict between american born asianers and their parents.. well written.
LibraryThing member Omrythea
If you need a book to make you weep and weep some more, this one is it. So sad, sigh....
LibraryThing member wordygirl39
I just re-read this book in April of 2007 for the first time since college, when the book first came out. It stands the test of time, because I loved it more on this second reading. Tan's interwoven stories are like mini-soap operas, so she'll always draw the chick-lit crowd, but her word arrangements are as fine as Chekhov's which will always make her a standard with true lovers of modern American literature. The Joy Luck Club, though, was her best book.… (more)
LibraryThing member cathinpa
A great tale of the clashing of mothers, daughters and cultures.
LibraryThing member emib
I loved how this book was written in different points of view.It was like a whole heap of short stories that were connected in some way or another I highly recomend this book=]
LibraryThing member jennyk81
This is a really great story by Amy Tan about mother and daugther relationships, how our moms can be totally different people than we think, and how family history can play a part in our destiny.
LibraryThing member thairishgrl
Amy Tan writes beautifully but I have a hard time with the repeated themes that are present in all of the books that I have read: a distant, misunderstood immigrant mother, her americanized, perfectionist daughter trapped in a loveless relationship with her white husband who is distant and unsupportive. It's a shame, because she is able to capture the difficiculities that can exist when cultures collide so beautifully.… (more)
LibraryThing member bibliophile26
It seems like more of a collection of stories than a novel. I don't know how realistic these stories would seem to real Chinese immigrants, but I found them facinating. My favorite story is "Magpies," where one of the mothers, An-mei Hsu, tells the story of her own mother as a concubine. My only complaint about the book is that I felt that I got to know the characters extremely well as individuals, but understood very little about their interpersonal relationships. There was a hint of competition between two of them in one story over cooking and a small window into their sorrow about losing one of the club's members, but I did not get a sense of what made the "Joy Luck Club" so special.… (more)
LibraryThing member stien
The first book I read by Tan. I was so excited at the time by the freshness of her voice and her unique Chinese-American perspective. Ethnic writing is as commonplace as Starbucks these days but when the book first came out (I just realize this is the 2006 reprinted edition), this was hot stuff.
LibraryThing member cinesnail88
Tan's novel succeeded in its primary aim for me, and the relationships were believable and developed. I think there are better books out there about similar issues, but this one still deserves a mention.



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