The Joy Luck Club – Amy Tan

Posted 19 December, 2013 by Trish in Reading Nook, Review / 13 Comments


Title: The Joy Luck Club
Author: Amy Tan
Published: 1989 Pages: 332
Genre: Fiction
Rating: 4/5

In Short: Snapshots from the lives of four women born in China and their daughters who were born in the United States. Each chapter focuses on a different woman – more like short stories than a cohesive novel.

Why I Read It: We read The Joy Luck Club for book club in November. I tried to read it in high school but didn’t finish it and got my library card revoked. I’ve always held JLC responsible for my fear of libraries!

Thoughts in General: I don’t remember why I tried to read The Joy Luck Club in high school–it couldn’t have been because of the movie because it had already been out for a few years. Anyway, the choice now seems incredibly random and I’m glad that I didn’t have much success reading JLC in high school because I’m not sure I would have appreciated it. Ok, I know I wouldn’t have. The book starts off a bit slowly and the writing is rich and a bit dense in places. Though once I finished the first story, I found myself wanting to dive further and further into the lives and the stories of the Joy Luck Club women.

Because the book basically shows snippets of the lives of eight women, it’s hard to explain what the book is truly about. What will you find in The Joy Luck Club? Love and romance, pain and regret, sacrifice and honor. There are stories of marriage and divorce, births and losses, money and failures. There is much about Chinese traditions, particularly in the sections of the book that take place in China before (and slightly during) World War II, and I was constantly struck by the strong beliefs and customs. It made me mourn a little at the loss of many traditions in our current time. And as a counterpoint to the Chinese traditions are the stories of assimilation and the struggles of being Chinese and American at the same time, especially for the second generation daughters.

My trade paperback copy of The Joy Luck Club is only 332 and with eight women (each who have two chapters in the book), there is so much packed into those three hundred pages. The writing is beautiful and descriptive and Tan has a way of inviting her readers into the book and making them feel comfortable within the pages. By the time I go to the very last page of the book I immediately wanted to begin the book again. It is one that I can see myself revisiting again in a few year’s time. And now that I’ve waited years to actually read this one, I’m thinking I should probably read some of Tan’s other books sooner rather than later.

Bottom Line: I truly enjoyed The Joy Luck Club and the short story like structure was well suited for my pick up and put down reading style of late (though there are so many connections throughout the book that this also means a lot of flipping back and forth for reminders). The stories made me laugh and made me cry; they made me want to hug my mother, be a better mother to my own daughters; they made me feel pride at being an American while also remembering that it wasn’t so long ago that my own family came over from across the sea. My only complaint was that by the end of the book I wanted much more–I could have easily have read another one or two hundred pages about these women!

One of my many highlights: “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 daughters who grow impatient when their mothers talk in Chinese, who think they are stupid when they explain things in fractured English. 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” (31).

What Book Club Thought: As with most book club books, we were split. While we all appreciated the book, some loved it more than others. We had a great discussion and with a bit more organization we probably could have discussed the book in even greater detail. I would definitely recommend The Joy Luck Club for book club discussions.

Have you read The Joy Luck Club or seen the movie? What about any of Amy Tan’s other books?

Do you have a favorite book about multiple generations?

13 Responses to “The Joy Luck Club – Amy Tan”

  1. I enjoyed Joy Luck Club when I read it a few years ago- enough to read several others of Tan’s books. For multi-generational stories, I recommend Family Matters by Rohinton Mistry.

  2. My mother is first generation American so I grew up hearing stories about what it’s like to be the child of immigrants. This book really struck a chord with me when I read it. I’m glad you enjoyed it.

  3. Oh noes, your library card! I can’t even imagine!

    I really liked this book. I wish I could remember what year I read it, suffice it to say it was a long way back ;) I wouldn’t mind re-reading it now to see if my impressions would change.

  4. I’ve read several of Amy Tan’s books, but not this one (although I did pick up a copy at the library sale this year). My favorite is The Kitchen God’s Wife. Great review, Trish.

  5. I really enjoyed this book when I read it years ago. I went on to enjoy many of the author’s other books. My mom recently got a copy of her most recent novel and will be passing it on to me when she’s done. I am glad you were able to finally read it and enjoyed it!

  6. Gah! I wish I hadn’t missed this book club meeting. AND I’m glad I finally picked a decent book club book. ;)

  7. I’ve read The Joy Luck Club three times (twice for different college courses and later on my own), and it’s one of my all-time favorites. It makes me cry every time! I’ve read all of her books, except for the newest (The Valley of Amazement, which I hope to get to on my Christmas vacation), and I absolutely love her writing.

  8. I probably should have waited to read this one- I tried it in college and for some reason it just did not resonate with me. I know I read the entire book, and I recall very little about it. But it could be I just don’t appreciate the author- I think I’ve tried another book by Amy Tan and just couldn’t get into it.

  9. I liked this one but did’t love love it. I almost wish that some of the characters had had bigger stories with the others having smaller parts. As for the immigrant experience I thought it was very illuminating and we would all be better off to be reminded of our history.

  10. Les

    I must’ve read this in the early 90’s, along with The Kitchen God’s Wife and A Hundred Secret Senses. All three were winners in my book, but I couldn’t get into the last one (Bonesetter something) before her latest release. I agree with Nupur’s recommendation for A Fine Balance. That’s an outstanding saga with scenes that have remained with me for almost two decades!