Friday, May 31, 2013

The Joy Luck Club

1989, 2006 Penguin edition
Amy Tan
The Joy Luck Club
Original price $14.00, bought used for $4.20
Worn paperback

I recently got a bunch of VHS releases for 49 cents each at Goodwill.  They were mostly comedies, so perhaps it's not surprising that the one which made me cry (several times) was the 1993 adaptation of this book.  In fact, I'd argue that this is a case of the film (co-written by Tan) being an improvement over the novel.  For one thing, the structure of this book, with its four four-segmented parts, is harder to follow than the film's pairing of each daughter and mother.  For another, when one character admits, almost in passing, to having an abortion, there's just not the impact of seeing that character drown an adorable baby boy of a few months old.  That said, I didn't feel like another character's abandonment of her twin baby girls hit as hard in the movie, partly because she didn't look like she was as ill as she's supposed to be.  (The detail of the bleeding hands is strangely omitted.)  On the other hand, the movie actually gave me more of a sense of the friendships among the "club."

As for the book on its own terms, I liked the glimpses into lives so different from other fiction I own, the mothers' youths in China especially.  There are moments that feel like they're out of fairy tales, and then there's the shock of remembering that they happen in the 1930s and '40s.  The book goes up to 1987, and includes a line about the fear of catching AIDS from a gay hairstylist.  (This was omitted in the movie, a sign of increased tolerance, although I think Tan originally put it in to show how opinionated Waverly is.)  Also, there's a sense that many (maybe all) of the younger generation here are Yuppies.

I don't think I read this book at the time, but I certainly did by the time I heard Tan speak in my college town in 1994.  (Very funny speech, much funnier and wiser than this book actually.) I went on to read The Kitchen God's Wife, which we'll get to in 1991.

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