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My Inner Anthology: The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan

Written by Rachael Norris, 14th April 2021

Today's reading recommendation comes from The Reader's Manchester Hub Leader, Kate Weston. Katie recommends a piece from her 'inner anthology' The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan.

As April is both National Poetry Month and Stress Awareness Month, the readings we have chosen to share this month all meet the theme of 'balm for the soul'.

An image of a book with an orange penguin classics cover illustrated with an intricate dragon and feathers around the traditional penguin logo

Last March, knowing that we were about to enter a very bewildering period of time, I treated myself to a beautiful edition of one of my favourite comfort reads, The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan.  When I first discovered this novel, around sixteen years ago, I was beginning to think about my place in the world and to explore my own family history, especially my maternal heritage, so this book about the complex, often quite fraught, relationships between four Chinese women and their Chinese–American daughters intrigued me on a personal level and has, ultimately, stayed with me ever since.

Whilst the novel - which is more like a series of short stories from the perspectives of each of the mothers and daughters in it - explores Chinese cultural identity and the immigrant experience, and is particularly focused on a female experience of the world, it encompasses so many facets of what it means just to be human  – from ideas of belonging, to our understanding of our ourselves, how we navigate our relationships with family, and the ways in which we handle the challenges in our lives.  Each time I read it, it makes me wonder about the different ways in which we communicate with the people we are closest to: what we say and, perhaps more importantly, what we don’t say; how we create versions of ourselves and each other through the stories we tell; and why it can feel more difficult to communicate honestly with those we are closest to, even when we seem to share the same language.

The Joy Luck Club is not necessarily a comfort read in the traditional sense; it doesn’t give me a sense of unbridled joy at the close of the book, though there are, undeniably, some warm and fuzzy parts. It deals with death, grief, difficult childhoods, strained relationships, and, as the blurb puts it, ‘the inheritance of pain’. This is what makes the book such a balm, in my opinion: instead of sugarcoating family life, it presents it realistically, acknowledging that misunderstandings,  disappointments, and secrets are often part and parcel of our relationships, but that ultimately, amidst the challenges, there’s always the potential for deeper understanding, reconciliation, and love.

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