The Bonesetter's Daughter

by Amy Tan

Hardcover, 2001




New York : G.P. Putnam's , 2001.


Drama. Fiction. HTML: Set in Contemporary San Francisco and in a Chinese village where Peking Man is being unearthed, The Bonesetter's Daughter is an excavation of the human spirit: the past, its deepest wounds, its most profound hopes. The story conjures the pain of broken dream, the power of myths, and the strength of love that enables us to recover in memory what we have lost in grief. Over the course of one fog-shrouded year, between one season of falling stars and the next, mother and daughter find what they share in their bones through heredity, history, and inexpressible qualities of love..

User reviews

LibraryThing member bohemiangirl35
I just finished listening to [The Bonesetter's Daughter], my first Amy Tan novel. I was mildly surprised that I liked the book. I did not read the synopsis, just picked it up off the shelf at the library. I've avoided [The Joy Luck Club] like a virus because I'm not into chick lit and thought the
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story was overexposed when the book and movie came out. And since then, I have not been interested in reading anything by Amy Tan.

However, as my first exposure to the author, [The Bonesetter's Daughter] was excellent. The story centers on mother/daughter relationships, secrets and knowing oneself. Ruth Young, daughter of a Chinese immigrant mother LuLing Liu Young, is a book doctor (ghost writer) and very busy with the details and insecurities of her own life. When she finally notices that her mother is exhibiting signs of Alzheimer's and dementia, she is scared, but puts her life on hold to figure out what's wrong and take care of her mother.

LuLing had tried to tell Ruth that something was wrong much earlier by writing her life's story, the things she knew were true and things she did not want to forget, and giving them to Ruth. Ruth did not make the time to translate the handwritten pages from mandarin Chinese to English and so did not read the story. Once she recognizes that LuLing is ill, Ruth has the pages translated and learns the reasons behind her mother's behavior as Ruth was growing up.

The book is told from both Ruth's and LuLing's voices. Ruth talks about the present day and life as the daughter of an immigrant who holds on to her Chinese belief system. LuLing's autobiography recounts her childhood and relationship with her mother and extended family. LuLing and her birth mother, Precious Auntie, were outcasts in their own family. Precious Auntie was raised to be confident and knowledgeable like a man and is abused for this audacity by a would-be suitor. He kills her father and groom on her wedding day. Precious Auntie, in her grief, ends up horrifically burned, but still alive and pregnant with LuLing. To spare the family embarrassment, Precious Auntie's sister becomes LuLing's mother and Precious Auntie is 'only' her nursemaid. Tragedy and drama follow the web of secrets and superstitions.

By learning her mother's true history, Ruth is able to come to terms with her own relationship with LuLing, show compassion to her mother for her illness, and find her own identity.
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LibraryThing member karriethelibrarian
Started out slow for me, but I enjoyed it immensely once I got into it.
LibraryThing member wewerefiction
In The Bonesetter's Daughter, Amy Tan draws the heartbreaking, complex picture of the relationship between Ruth Young, the middle-aged Chinese-American daughter of LuLing. LuLing's story is woven into Ruth's life just as quickly and mercilessly as it is threaded into the reader's life. It is a sad
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tale involving dragon bones, World War II China, love, death, and acceptance. Ruth assists in the writing of self-help books; on top of her problems with the authors she helps, she is increasingly finding difficulty with her home situation - Art, her boyfriend, is a divorcee with two daughters, and her struggle to understand her mother's words is apparent.

LuLing has given her a chance to understand her, however; Ruth receives a diary of sorts describing - well, she isn't sure. She holds on to it for a long time as her Chinese is terrible, and it's not until she finally submits it to an expert to translate that she realizes LuLing's signs of Alzheimer's aren't quite as bad as she suspects. She discovers with the reader the truth of LuLing's past, the significance of ghosts, and the beauty that can come from healing past scars.

It's hard to formulate a real review of this book; there is so much going on in it - I haven't even summarized the half of it. It is divided into three parts. The first describes Ruth in a bit of detail including what she's dealing with and her concern for her mother. The second is the translation of LuLing's diary as presented to Ruth by the translater who, we discover in the third part, has fallen in love with LuLing through her words. It's not quite as miraculous as it seems; there is depth in the details presented and one easily feels he/she is struggling through World War II era China right along with LuLing and her family. The third part illustrates Ruth's reactions to the tale, and her decision of what to do with her mother.

This is an engrossing book which I barely found time to put down. The characters drew me in more than anything else. Ruth reminds me a bit of myself - nitpicky, a little unreasonable, but extremely concerned for those she loves. LuLing shows a strength of will and heart that is almost incomparable by any of the other characters in my life; I imagine it would be an honor to know such a formidable woman. Art, despite Ruth's misgivings, is an ever-supportive partner. GaoLing, LuLing's sister (of sorts), shows admirable confidence in her sister's ability to survive; she also sticks by her through and through without hesitation. It was a quick read, but by no means a light one. I found myself crying several times throughout this book, maybe in part because of the river-flow of smooth, eloquently chosen words, but I think it is mostly because I was sincerely torn when the characters were. I felt for them. I felt like I was with them.

As Ruth finds her voice in the course of this book, so I also felt like I had found something unrecognized previously within me. At the beginning, she is frustrated, feeling useless as one able to speak but unable to speak for her mother - in her defense? Or perhaps she is upset because she cannot find the words to tell her mother how she feels. Once she has read LuLing's story, however, she finds her voice once again. She speaks out to GaoLing, to Art, to every influence in her life she feels is wanting. Her voice returns as her strength deepens, and I had the impression this is because she discovered a part of her that was once lost. She never knew, of course, LuLing's struggles, but by learning the truth she has gained bits and pieces of her own past, as well as her mother's and grandmother's, thus puzzling together a whole Ruth who feels more complete to face the changes coming in her life. Her voice returns, and I felt full again too.

The Bonesetter's Daughter is an illustrious painting of the lives within. Layers reveal hidden intricacies of each character - like a special cream-filled surprise. I enjoyed this book, but it hasn't encouraged me to read other books by the author. This is my first Amy Tan book, unlike most other readers who started with Joy Luck Club (I haven't even seen the movie!), but as beautifully executed as it was, it wasn't memorable. It's been four days since I've finished it, but I sadly can't think of very much else to say in my review. I loved it while I was reading it. I was inside it (as I mentioned); I felt I was part of the story. If I had reviewed it immediately, this post would probably be much longer and full of details pertaining to ink-making and hard work, Ruth and LuLing's voices, mother-daughter relationships, love in times of war, and who knows what else! But I quickly forgot all the details I wanted to impress in relation to these themes; even now, I can only recall that these were themes, but I wouldn't be able to give a detailed account.

It was an extremely good book and I would recommend it to anyone, but only under the expectation that the joy won't last. This is not one of those books that will become a "favorite book;" you won't cry for the characters after the last page is turned. You'll have a fond memory of it, knowing that you really loved it, but you won't be able to say why.
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LibraryThing member whitewavedarling
A powerful labyrinth of a book--beautiful and moving with every word.

Amy Tan may be known for her Joy Luck Club, but this book reaches far beyond that work to explore a short line of mothers and daughters, each to the next transitioning from one role to the other and becoming more in the process.
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Tan's work here is without flaw---heartbreaking, humorous, sweet, and harsh. I was engaged with every page, and couldn't recommend the book highly enough. This one is worth reading, and re-reading. The book itself is a journey, worth relishing and passing on.
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LibraryThing member sbakhtiari
Amy Tan is a sure bet. Of course this book is good!
LibraryThing member Talbin
The Bonesetter's Daughter, by Amy Tan, tells the story of three generations of women. In the present day, Ruth Young discovers her mother, LuLing Young, has Alzheimer's disease. LuLing has already given Ruth a manuscript written in Chinese titled, Things I Know Are True, which Ruth has not read.
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Then, as she is cleaning her mother's house, Ruth discovers anther manuscript - Things I Must Not Forget. Ruth has these translated, and LuLing's story comprises the main portion of The Bonesetter's Daughter.

LuLing's story about growing up in rural China while being taken care of by Precious Auntie, going through WWII and the cultural revolution, and finally moving to America to find a new life, is wonderfully told. However, the first and third parts, about Ruth and LuLing in present-day America, were somewhat disjointed. I found it especially difficult to connect the present-day LuLing to her younger self - the woman that LuLing becomes is almost a caricature of a harping, overbearing mother, but there is almost no evidence of this woman in the younger LuLing.
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LibraryThing member wyvernfriend
Ruth's mother is apparenly losing her mind. Her memories are slipping away from her. Ruth finds a document that tells the story of her youth and escape from China to America.

Ruth's mother LuLing was the daughter of a woman who was once beautiful until a terrible accident happened. Her family did
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both calligraphy and ink-making in China, until the death of LuLing's mother, their most gifted calligrapher.

Interesting and compelling, this is a story of hard choices and twists of fate.
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LibraryThing member arelenriel
This is one of my favorite Amy Tan books. Tan has a wonderful grasp of what it is like to grow up a second generation immigrant in this country. She also has a very unique perspective on the mother daughter relations ship that is much more truthful than how many writers portray mother daughter
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LibraryThing member autumnesf
Interesting book. The treatment of the disfigured aunt was pretty sad. One I would recommend as a read but not to buy.
LibraryThing member Niecierpek
Audio and abridged-still six hours. Maybe it was a case of all the longish and boring parts taken out by editors, but it was excellent. Read by Amy Tan herself and Joan Chen and, where necessary, with a great Chinese accent.
LibraryThing member serendipitina
Amy Tan is an elegant storyteller and she does not disappoint with The Bonesetter's Daughter. Tan takes us again into the often tense and misunderstood mother-daughter relationship world, but continues to show the love, sacrifice and tenderness as well.
LibraryThing member wordygirl39
This is my favorite Amy Tan novel so far. I usually like her writing, whatever it is, but this book had the feel of a lovely, long fairy tale coupled with modern angst. Can't beat that for sheer reading pleasure.
LibraryThing member jennyk81
"The Bonesetters Daughter" is a great story about a daughter taking care of her aging mother and discovering her mother's, and estranged grandmother's past, and understanding way her mother is the way she is and even gains a better understanding of herself. It is a great book, the story will stick
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with you for a long time, and make sure you give your mom a hug when you are done reading it.
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LibraryThing member Elsieb
I read this a few years ago; liked it a lot. I found the mother/daughter relationship touching, not cliched. Keep meaning to read more of Amy...
LibraryThing member timhelck
I love Amy Tan and this is her best book. I can't praise it enough. The writing is simple and beautiful and it is the best plotted of her novels.

One of the characters is an elderly woman suffering from Alzheimers Disease. She is described with such tenderness and compassion that I was deeply moved
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when reading it. Anybody who has to care for an older family member would find pleasure and hope in reading this story.
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LibraryThing member stien
I very much enjoyed this book, particularly the interplay of the various characters who find themselves enmeshed across lifetimes. This is a fascinating fictional perspective on the buddhist concept of reincarnation. I like the fact that one of the bad guys gets reincarnated as a dog.
LibraryThing member Katie_H
Ruth is a 40-something American woman who has come to the realization that her Chinese immigrant mother, LaoLing, is losing her memory as a result of dementia. LaoLing, who realized that her memory was leaving her before her daughter did, painstakingly penned her life story and secrets to share
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with her daughter. Much of the novel is LaoLing's memories of her life and experiences in China. Two mother-daughter stories are presented in the multigenerational, bi-continental family story, that of LaoLing and Ruth, as well as that between LaoLing and her own mother. Past and present were woven together nicely, and the emotions associated with memory loss are explored thoroughly. The novel did not quite live up to The Joy Luck Club, even though the themes were similar, but I still enjoyed it. Tan continues to have a witty style of writing that is heartfelt as well as humorous.
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LibraryThing member kattepusen
Formulaic, yet addictive...

I almost feel bad criticizing this book for being overly formulaic when I actually enjoyed parts of it so much. Yes, this is typical Amy Tan fare, which includes mother-daughter angst, immigrant culture, and old Chinese family secrets dusted off and gradually exposed
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through some engrossing storytelling. The story shifts between present-day San Francisco where we follow Ruth Young and her struggles with her Chinese-born mother, LuLing, and pre-WW2 rural China where we are treated to sumptious descriptions of old customs and superstitions surrounding LuLing's family origins. As with Tan's other books, it is when she takes the reader back in time to China that the story really shines. When the plot returns to America, it almost feels like a complete let-down.

In present time, Ruth's mother, LuLing, suffers from dementia, and as a result she has written down her life story in Chinese for her daughter to read. Ruth, who is not fluent in written Mandarin, hires someone to translate the story, and it is through this translation we are treated to the memoirs of LuLing. The bonesetter is her grandfather, and the daughter actually refers to LuLing's real mother - or Precious Auntie as she is called. This tragic title character is at the center of the story both before and after her death, and the injustices done to her by her adversaries as well as her own family are heartwrenching. The dynamic between LuLing and her "sister" GaoLing is also well portrayed, and the sisterly jealousies as well as loyalties are well characterized. The family business aspects, caligraphy descriptions and the ink-producing process are fascinating to read.
All the superstitions and ghosts that envelope every character in China, however, are the most satisfying parts.

There are numerous subplots and transitory characters, both in China and in San Fransisco. There are the two American missionaries along with Sister Yu, who run the orphanage where LuLing spends several years both as student and teacher. There are the British mother and daughter and their talking parrot in Hong Kong where LiuLing as a maid learns English. There are the archeologists who are excavating the Peking Man - and the one who wins LuLing's heart. The subplot involving Dottie and Lance from Ruth's childhood, however, albeit interesting, seemed to fizzle out without a proper conclusion.
Finally, the main male characters in the story were quite one-dimensional (saintly or evil) - but this is rather typical in Tan's writing.

The end is too contrived in its desperate attempt to provide some sort of closure between everyone. Also, the translator's role becomes a bit too sentimental. You leave the book wishing to read more about China, which is actually a good feeling.

All in all, this is a comforting hammock read without profound implications.
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LibraryThing member francescadefreitas
Maybe I have had an overdose of this author, but I did not enjoy this book as much as the previous ones. It was a just so terribly, terribly sad. I cannot fault the writing, I just did not enjoy the story.
LibraryThing member FlorenceArt
This is my first Amy Tan novel, and probably the last. It's OK but I was disappointed. The story is interesting and the characters believable. I should have been moved, but I wasn't. I'm not sure why.
LibraryThing member workgman
am always looking forward to a new amy tan, i will stop what i am reading at the time to get going on her newest but this book didn't capture me like the rest.
LibraryThing member maiadeb
Amazing read reminding us all how little we truly know about another's life...
LibraryThing member southernbooklady
Amy Tan’s book The Bonesetter’s Daughter was released on the 19th of February, 2001 (her birthday, coincidentally) after a nearly eight year hiatus since her last novel, The Hundred Secret Senses. Fans of Tan tend to treat each new novel like the rare treat that it is- greeting each arrival
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with the kind of joy one takes in a rare pleasure. With four novels and two children’s books to her name over the last 20 years, Tan is not the most prolific of writers. But she is certainly one of the most beloved. The Bonesetter’s Daughter will only make her more so.

It is the story of Ruth Young- a Chinese-American woman trying to come to terms with the onset of Alzheimer’s disease in her mother, LuLing, while trying to diagnose what has gone wrong with her own ten year relationship to the man she thought she loved. A ‘ghostwriter’ who is much better at helping other people express their thoughts than at giving voice to her own, Ruth is losing the battle to preserve her identity just as her mother is losing her memory. But the day she faces up to how drastically LuLing’s disease has progressed, Ruth also finds a stack of papers written in careful Chinese script- her mother’s memoirs. Ruth sets out to translate them, and in so doing releases a host of secrets from her mothers past like moths in an old trunk in the attic.

LuLing was raised in a small Chinese village called Immortal Heart, and better known to the outside world as the site where Peking Man was discovered. Born just prior to the Revolution, she was for some unknown reason an outcast despite being the eldest daughter in a highly respected family of ink-makers. Her only companion was her nurse maid- a woman with a badly burned face she called Precious Auntie. Precious Auntie was the daughter of a famous bonesetter in this village made famous by bones, but her fortunes had turned, leaving her in this doubtful position with the ink-maker’s family after the death of her father. The day before LuLing is to be married, Precious Auntie throws herself into a ravine- thereby bringing bad luck and destruction on the family. Believing that her ghost would haunt them forever, her mother casts LuLing out of the family, in the hopes that Precious Auntie’s spirit would follow. LuLing endures the onset of World War II and the invasion of China by the Japanese, and eventually escapes to America, still believing herself cursed for somehow betraying her nursemaid.

As Ruth detangles the past she learns things about her mother that make her a different person from the woman Ruth has known. Her age, family, and even her name were different. Some of Tan’s inspiration for this novel came from dealing with the terminal illness of her own mother (one of the reasons that the book was delayed nearly eight years), and her discovery that her mother had a different name in China than she carried in the United States.

There are three voices in this book- Ruth’s, LuLing’s and Precious Auntie’s. Ruth has the harassed tones of the modern age- third person, quick, always guilty for never quite living up to the demands of the moment. Luling speaks in the first person, like a storyteller. And Precious Auntie, whose tongue was burned, speaks only with grunts, hand signals, and by banging on pots when she is very angry. One thing all three women have in common- they all write beautifully. Precious Auntie, who learned more of medicines, reading and writing than was good for a woman to know in China, was a calligrapher of the highest order- her work was famous in the region. She taught her artistry to LuLing, who became equally talented. This skill stood her in good stead at the end of the war- amongst the multitudes seeking to escape China she was chosen for being an artist and “a living treasure”. Her daughter, who barely learned Chinese and does all her writing on her laptop, learned none of this until it was nearly too late.

Tan weaves an exploration of language into the pages- Ruth’s own mastery of English is so absolute that she can seamlessly disappear behind the words of others, although the writing is all her own. As she struggles to translate her mother’s memoirs, she is brought face to face with the many layers of meaning in Chinese words and script. Symbols that seem to translate flatly into English as “Eldest Daughter”, “Honored Aunt”, or “Bad Luck” contain a wealth of nuances in written and spoken context. This struggle between a mother who loves the language of China and a daughter who speaks it indifferently gives rise to years of misunderstanding between the two- a gulf that Ruth only begins to cross when her mother seems to be drifting beyond reach.

Tan’s deft transitions between mother and daughter, China and America, present and past, will remind readers of her first novel, the Joy Luck Club. The Bonesetter’s Daughter is a beautiful book. It was worth every day of the last eight years’ wait.
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LibraryThing member magst
I have to say this is the best so far from Tan. I was completely pulled in by the story and characters! Sad, haunting, & very hard to read at times. Not a quick read, but well worth the time!
LibraryThing member cbl_tn
Ruth Young and her Chinese immigrant mother have a difficult relationship. Now her mother, LuLing, is showing symptoms of Alzheimer's. As an only child, Ruth feels the burden of caring for her mother. Her partner, Art, and his sullen daughters take more from Ruth than they give. As LuLing's
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memories began to fade, she wrote down her important memories for her daughter. Ruth had to struggle to read traditional Chinese characters, so she had set aside her mother's story to read when she had more time. When Ruth realizes how much of her mother she's lost already, she hires a translator to discover her mother's story. The perspective shifts from third to first person, with LuLing telling her own story.

The audio version uses two narrators – one for Ruth's story and one for LuLing's. Because I've been disappointed before by authors narrating their own works, I try to make it a rule to avoid listening to them. I am glad I made an exception for this one. Tan proved to be as talented as many professional narrators. Since such a large part of the book is written in first person, it seems natural to hear someone speaking the story. The theme of finding one's voice also suits the audio format. Highly recommended.
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Women's Prize for Fiction (Longlist — 2001)
Audie Award (Finalist — 2002)


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