The Bonesetter’s Daughter by Amy Tan is a story of three generations of women who hail from China. That’s not a surprise in the world of Amy Tan. That’s generally what she writes about. Amy Tan writes about women from China over several generations. It’s just how Amy Tan works. The great thing about Amy, which I have mentioned before, is that Amy can mingle the paranormal and other superstitions with real life scenarios and make it sound completely plausible.
This book is divided into three parts. During the first part of the book we meet Ruth. Ruth is a writer. She actually helps other authors put their books in order. She is not married and she has no children. She does have a boyfriend she lives with, Art, and he has two daughters, Dory and Fia. Ruth spends her days arguing with authors and running errands for her family. She is hosting Chinese Thanksgiving this year and has more on her plate than usual.
As Ruth counts of items she is trying to remember on her fingers and toes, she remembers that she is supposed to take her mother, Liuling, to the doctor. The appointment does not go well. It becomes apparent that something is wrong with Liuling. She tells the doctor her wrong age. It becomes apparent to Ruth that something has been wrong with her mother for a while, but she hasn’t taken the time to notice.
A few years back, Liuling wrote down her life story in Chinese for Ruth, but Ruth has never taken the time to read it through. Ruth soon throws herself into the terrible realization that her mother has Alzheimer’s disease. She and her mother were never close while Ruth was growing up. Liuling raised Ruth on her own because Ruth’s father was killed in a car accident. Ruth listens to her mother complain about Gaoling, her sister, throughout her life.
During the Chinese Thanksgiving celebration, Liuling says that Gaoling is not her sister and that Precious Auntie, her nursemaid, is actually her mother. This little thought niggles at Ruth. She finally decides to get her mother’s writing translated.
In the second part of the book, we have Liuling’s story. Her mother was the daughter of a famous bonesetter. People would come to him from all around if they had broken bones. Her mother and siblings died years before and her father was left alone to raise her. She was spoiled in many ways. One day a nice young man came and offered her marriage, but another man had also offered her marriage, but she refused. On the way to her new home, this refused man, in a disguise, attacked the party. Liuling’s mother lost both her fiance and father that day.
Her future in-laws took her in anyway. She tried to commit suicide by swallowing hot ink. Her face was disfigured but she lived. Her would-be-mother-in-law, took careful pains to keep her alive fearing retribution from the ghost of her son. It soon became apparent that the young woman in their home was pregnant. They decided to keep both the mother and baby. The woman of the house would raise her daughter as well as the bonesetter’s daughter as her own. The daughter is named Liuling.
Liuling grows up. The son of the man who killed her grandfather offers marriage to Liuling, which she is determined to fulfill, but her mother ends that in a way that I won’t give away here. Soon, China is attacked by Japan. The country is at war. Liuling ends up at an orphanage where she becomes a teacher. She finds love. Her sister, Gaoling, comes to visit her. They later escape to America and Liuling starts her life there.
The third part of the book is about the after math of all of this. Ruth realizes that her mother cannot live on her own. Her boyfriend, Art, also realizes that he has taken Ruth for granted way too often. Ruth picks up the pieces of her life after the revelation from her mother.
What I liked
I really like reading Amy Tan books. I’ve already mentioned her great ability to make ghosts and superstitions sound completely normal. I also like the history I get with Amy Tan novels. I think most of the Chinese history I have learned has come from Amy Tan, Lisa See, and Pearl S. Buck. I like learning about the culture as well.
I’ve read this book before. I actually bought a copy from Barnes and Noble before I went to live in Okinawa for three years. I read this book while I was staying at the Kadena Air Force Base hotel. I forget what it is called. I left my copy at the paper back exchange because I didn’t want to accumulate a lot of books while I was in Japan. What really fascinated me this time around, was the ink making process. I work with ink my artwork and I have for years. Ink is something I am familiar with. While I was in Japan I would see the type of ink described in this book from time to time, but I never bought any. I regret it now. I would like to own an ink stick. My ink is all liquid. It makes me wonder if I could make my own ink. I probably could. It would be an interesting experiment.
Amy is very good with generations. My family has four generations alive right now. So the generation thing is familiar to me.
What I didn’t like
Art is kind of a dork. He’s not a terrible boyfriend, but he’s not the best boyfriend either. His kids sound like brats.
The description of Alzheimer’s disease in this book is fairly accurate. I used to take care of people who had the disease. It’s sad, and very luckily, nobody in my family has it. It’s a terrible thing to watch a person who once knew how to do so many great things, not be able to remember much of anything. It’s sad that Amy puts this twist on the relationship Ruth has with her mother, but it’s realistic. The world is not gumdrops and lollipops. People get sick. I think it actually makes the writing Liuling does even more important than it had been before.
If you’re an Amy Tan reader, you pretty much have to read this book. If you like fiction about Chinese women, you pretty much have to read this book.