The Bonesetter’s Daughter
♦♦♦ By Amy Tan.
Perhaps I shouldn't have read this right after The Hundred Secret Senses, because I kept making comparisons between the two. But then, there are a number of comparisons to be made: two storylines in two different times, reconciling Old World superstition and religion with New World pragmatism, modern women in troubled marriages. Fortunately it didn't take too many pages to understand that Amy Tan really isn't writing the same book twice.
Ruth is a ghostwriter, in more than one sense of the world; is it any wonder that, in spite of her protestations, she has an inferiority complex? Her failings seem all the more clear as her step-daughters grow into teenagers, her husband grows distant, and her mother grows simultaneously the most incoherent and the most lucid she's been in her life.
That's the first storyline. Number two: China, World War II and the years before, Ruth's mother Liuling's childhood and young womanhood, and the scars that tragedy after tragedy brought to her life. The greatest is the loss of Precious Auntie, Liuling's own mother; the rest of her life has been a mournful reply to Precious Auntie's death.
I didn't find this book as strong as its predecessor, mainly because I thought the two storylines were unbalanced; the China storyline was more gripping, more compelling, and more compact. While I won't argue that it would have been able to stand on its own, I found the America storyline long on words and not as interesting. I think the imbalance would have been less glaring if the storylines had been interwoven chapter by chapter the way they were in The Hundred Secret Senses; instead there were just four chunks, two small and two large.
What I took from this book more than anything else is the tragedy of the past's inaccessibility. Both Ruth and Liuling's lives are deeply marked by their failure to understand the lives of the previous generation. And this is something we're confronted with every day. We don't learn from the lessons of the past, because the past is something so far away that we can never truly understand even when we bother to try. Trying, though, of course is much better than shutting our hands over our ears for fear of what we'll hear.
Posted by Lisa on June 23, 2003 09:32 PM