An American Dragon
Reviewed by Larry Li
May 5, 2008
This heartfelt book explores the conflicts between Chinese immigrant mothers and their American-raised daughters, as well as the hardships which come from adjusting from one culture to another. Once engaged into the plot, the book is a relativity fast read and spell-binding to the end.
Whether you are young, old or just going through your mid-life crisis, you will love The Joy Luck Club for its touching stories about the bonds between generations. The Joy Luck Club should be applauded for its innovative method of using various narrators. Reflecting this ingenuity, Tan chooses an ambiguous title to demonstrate the narrators’ conflicts. Even one of the narrators, Jing-mei admits that she cannot explain the significance of the club’s name to the reader. She recognizes that the concept is not something which can be translated. From this point on, Tan has hooked the reader to the challenges that the narrators experience by crossing cultural barriers.
In addition to addressing how each of the narrators adapts to the blend of cultures, the novel also covers important ideas such as the control over one’s destiny. Within The Joy Luck Club, Tan presents a continuing argument about the extent of power each character has over her destiny. The Chinese belief system plays an important role in this. The zodiac and the five elements are used in part to justify some of the characters’ personalities. Jing-mei’s own fight with destiny is especially important and interesting throughout the novel. She denies destiny and thereby contrasts her mother, Suyuan, who believes that Jing-mei will be a prodigy as long as they work toward refining her pre-existing talent.
The Joy Luck Club tells a story shared between generations. Over the course of the novel, the mothers find themselves learning as much from their daughters as their daughters learn from them. Also, the characters find creative ways to communicate to one another. The mothers connect to their daughters by orating stories which they hope can transmit the emotions they feel towards their daughters, despite cultural barriers.
The Joy Luck Club in many ways mirrors Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. For example, both use first person narration and personal retelling of events. In The Joy Luck Club, the narrators’ focuses on the immigrant identity and their journey to preserve their identity by maintaining their Chinese heritage in American surroundings. In I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings on the other hand, Maya tries to find her own identity as an individual. Maya undergoes trials, such as recklessly driving a car, living by herself, and rape, to eventually develop into the individual she becomes by the end of the book. Similarly, Jing-mei Woo travels to China to help her learn about her own Chinese heritage and discover her true identity. Each of the other narrators goes through her own experiences that helps her uncover and possibly shape her identity. This makes the novel a deeply motivating story.
I recommend this book to anyone who has a little extra time and wishes to read a story that will change his view on the world. It is a wonderful book which explores the cultural struggle of immigrants and the battle that their daughters face by trying to integrate their heritage into their upbringing in a clashing culture. The Joy Luck Club is a novel that combines the stories of four Chinese women and their four American-born daughters into one complete story.