Amy Tan

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The Bonesetter's Daughter

Tan, Amy

Last Updated: Mar-22-2010
Annotated by:
Wear, Delese

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel


The Bonesetter's Daughter is divided into two major stories. One is the story of Ruth, an American-born Chinese woman, a ghostwriter for self-help books, in a relationship with a white man, stepmother to his two teenaged daughters, and finally, daughter of LuLing, who Ruth fears is becoming demented. Ruth begins to realize what her mother's memory loss means to both of them: for her mother, an increased need for attention, for Ruth, disappearing stories that could help Ruth understand her family and render a feeling that she is part of a larger story.

The second major story is that of LuLing, which Ruth discovers in the form of documents LuLing had given her several years earlier, written in Chinese, LuLing's attempt to hold on to fading memories of her life in China. This story within a story--LuLing's life in a village called Immortal Heart; the secrets passed on by her nursemaid Precious Auntie (who, we learn, is also her mother); a cave where bones are mined that may be the teeth of Peking Man; tales of ghosts and curses--parallels in many ways the present-day issues confronting Ruth: an inability to speak up to her partner and his two daughters; why she remains a ghostwriter, without a voice of her own; an increasingly problematic and confusing relationship with her mother. Answers to both women's puzzles and problems unfold as LuLing's story is translated in its entirety, providing answers through memory and words that could not be spoken, only recorded.

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Annotated by:
Shafer, Audrey

Primary Category: Literature / Literature

Genre: Collection (Mixed Genres)


This collection of nonfiction writings by fiction author Amy Tan includes multiple genres: essay, email, responses to journalist's questions, eulogy, love poem, university presentations, travel journal entries, and a commencement speech. Hence Tan terms the work "musings." Consonant with the multiple genres are multiple topics, ranging from memoirs of childhood and young adulthood, writing tips, fun portraying a dominatrix in a writers' rock-n-roll band, work on the film version of The Joy Luck Club, and past and present tragedies and struggles.

Much of the book, however, centers on medically-related themes. Prominent themes are: her diagnosis of neuroborreliosis--a form of late-stage Lyme disease--detailed in the final essay entitled "The Opposite of Fate"; her traumas such as the torture and murder of her best friend; the death of her father and brother from brain tumors; a car and a skiing accident; the cancer death of her editor and, woven throughout, the complicated psyche of her mother, Daisy Tan.

Daisy's extreme emotions ruled the family, and her behaviors, such as threatening not only suicide but also murder (she held a knife to Amy's throat), caused profound responses in her daughter. Probably one of the most adaptive responses was Amy Tan's use of their complex relationship in developing the nuanced mother-daughter relationships that characterize her fiction. Daisy's decline and death from Alzheimer's disease are also detailed here.

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