Summary and book reviews of The Bonesetter's Daughter by Amy Tan

The Bonesetter's Daughter

by Amy Tan

The Bonesetter's Daughter
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  • First Published:
    Feb 2001, 200 pages
    Paperback:
    Jan 2002, 416 pages

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Book Summary

Tan's newest novel mixes pure fiction with elements of autobiography. In the acknowledgements she writes, "The heart of this story belongs to my grandmother, its voice to my mother".

The first time Amy Tan - The New York Times best-selling author of The Joy Luck Club, The Kitchen God's Wife, and The Hundred Secret Senses - learned her mother's real name as well as that of her grandmother was on the day she died. It happened as Tan and several siblings - unified by a need to feel helpful instead of helpless - gathered to discuss their dying mother's past and prepare her obituary. Tan was stunned when she realized she had not known her own mother's birth name. It was just one of several surprises. In the act of writing a simple obituary Tan came to realize there was still so much she did not know about her. Soon afterwards she began rewriting the novel she had been working on for five years. Inspired by her own experiences with family secrets kept by one generation from the next, and drawn from a lifetime of questions and images, the result is The Bonesetters's Daughter.

The story begins when Ruth Young, a ghostwriter of self-help books, comes across a clipped stack of papers in the bottom of a desk drawer. Young has been caring for her ailing mother, LuLing, who is beginning to show the unmistakable signs of Alzheimer's disease. Written in Chinese by LuLing years earlier, when she first started worrying something was wrong with her memory, the papers contain a narrative of LuLing's life as a girl in China, and the life of her own mother, the daughter of the Famous Bonesetter from the village of Xian Xin - Immortal Heart - near the Mouth of the Mountain. Within the calligraphed pages Ruth finds the truth about a mother's heart, what she cannot tell her daughter yet hopes her daughter will never forget.

With her latest novel Amy Tan explores the changing place one has in a family of names that were nearly forgotten. Just as she herself has done, Tan shows Ruth finding the secrets and fragments of her mother's past - its heartfelt desires, its deepest wounds, its most profound hopes - and with each new discovery reconfiguring her assessment of the woman who shaped her life, who is in her bones.

The extent to which Tan's newest novel mixes pure fiction with elements of autobiography is made clear by Tan herself. In acknowledgements of The Bonesetter's Daughter she writes, "The heart of this story belongs to my grandmother, its voice to my mother."

Chapter One

For the past eight years, always starting on August twelfth, Ruth Young lost her voice.

The first time it happened was when she moved into Art's flat in San Francisco. For several days, Ruth could only hiss like an untended teakettle. She figured it was a virus, or perhaps allergies to a particular mold in the building.

When she lost her voice again, it was on their first anniversary of living together, and Art joked that her laryngitis must be psychosomatic. Ruth wondered whether it was. When she was a child, she lost her voice after breaking her arm. Why was that? On their second anniversary, she and Art were stargazing in the Grand Tetons. According to a park pamphlet, "During the peak of the Perseids, around August 12th, hundreds of 'shooting' or 'falling' stars streak the sky every hour. They are actually fragments of meteors penetrating the earth's atmosphere, burning up in their descent." Against the velvet blackness, Ruth silently ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
Introduction

The first time Amy Tan - The New York Times best-selling author of The Joy Luck Club, The Kitchen God's Wife, and The Hundred Secret Senses - learned her mother's real name as well as that of her grandmother was on the day she died. It happened as Tan and several siblings - unified by a need to feel helpful instead of helpless - gathered to discuss their dying mother's past and prepare her obituary. Tan was stunned when she realized she had not known her own mother's birth name. It was just one of several surprises. In the act of writing a simple obituary Tan came to realize there was still so much she did not know about her. Soon afterwards she began rewriting the novel she had been working on for five ...
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Reviews

Media Reviews

Glamour

A rich, fascinating read.

Glamour

A rich, fascinating read.

Kirkus Reviews

The novel builds slowly, and a few sequences (including an overextended account of a visit to an assisted-living facility) seem inexplicably disproportionate. But the elaborate preparation pays generous dividends in the stunning final 50 or so pages a beautifully modulated amalgam of grief, pride, resentment, and resignation - as Ruth accepts the consequences of knowing she was her mother's child and mother to the child her mother had become. Tan strikes gold once again.

Publisher's Weekly

This luminous and gripping book demonstrates enhanced tenderness and wisdom, however; it carries the texture of real life and reflects the paradoxes historical events can produce.

Reader Reviews

Maya Saputra

I'm in Love with Tan's Books!!
Love at the first sight!! I Love all Amy Tan's books! ^__^

Amy

Awesome book, really encaptures you in Chinese Culture and the way things were done back then. A truly amazing story.

Bianca

I loved this book!!
I found the story intriging and the intricate details made me feel as though i was experiencing everything first hand.
Although only a more mature audience will appreciate this work.

Din

The story is excellent!

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