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.


The Bonesetter's Daughter is another tale of the mother-daughter relationship, here, the particularly complex one between mothers and daughters raised in different cultures. Actually, there are several mother-daughter relationships explored in the novel: Ruth and LuLing, and LuLing and Precious Auntie. Precious Auntie is by far the most well imagined (and imaginative) character in the book. Other noteworthy aspects of the book are the relationship between aging parent and child. The fear and frustration Ruth expresses as she watches her mother's memory fade and her behaviors become more erratic are particularly well developed, along with her partner's response to the increased attention Ruth must give to LuLing.

In addition, LuLing's story of life in China is an interesting exploration of the power of memory and myth, and the strength of love between mother and child. However, the book follows too many patterns found in the author's previous work: the ubiquitous struggle between mother and daughter, the mother always situated in China, the daughter in the U.S.; and how the American daughter connects to a white man and must relearn or reconnect to her Chinese past through her mother's painful struggles.


G. P. Putnam's Sons

Place Published

New York



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