This is the third novel of Amy Tan. I have read the first two and her biography “Opposite of Fate”. This novel had been adapted in collaboration with Stewart Wallace and debut in the San Francisco Opera last October 2008. The story is in part based on Tan’s own emotional journey with her mother’s descent into Alzheimer’s disease. At this point, I don’t really know the difference between Alzheimer’s disease, dementia and senility. Maybe they all meant the same. 🙂
Amy Tan’s books are definitely not for everyone. It can feels like she is rambling about superstitious nonsense and soppy stories of helpless women. I like it because she writes stuff which I could relate to and typical of my culture.
The book begins with a story of Ruth Liu Ruyi and her mother, LuLing, whom past is hazy. Since she slipped into Dementia, Ruth had given up her job as a co-writer and moved in with her. Ruth recalled life with her mother when she is younger, with dad long deceased, broke her arm in kindie, and posing as Precious Aunty muse and guidance made stock investment and life decision based on “whims” on a sandbox. The mother documented her past and life history in Mandarin waiting to be translated. As it is being translated, book 2 narrates the life of LuLing living with Precious Aunty (PA) (Bao Mu) who is supposed to be her nursemaid. PA was a bonesetter’s daughter. Refused a marriage proposal to be second wife by coffin maker Chang, and married Hu-Sen. On her wedding day, Chang came over with bandits who kill her husband, ruined her face and couldn’t speak for the rest of her life. She gave birth to her daughter, LuLing, which she conceived before marriage , she could not speak and never told her daughter that she is in fact her mother (this is one bit that I never understand why she took so long to say it!). LuLing was brought up to believe she was the eldest daughter of Mother (Hu-Sen’s brother wife) with a sister named GaoLing. Many calamities soon befell on the family, with Chang’s son wanting to marry LuLing. PA tried to warn her by writing a long letter in which LuLing, out of anguish, wouldn’t read. PA killed herself the next day out of anguish and her body was believed to be thrown to the end of the world in the Immortal Heart village. LuLing live to regret the decision not to read her mother’s letter earlier. A fire broke out which burnt all the family’s oracle bones and ink and paintings. Believed to be the curse of PA, LuLing was banished to the orphanage, and Gao Ling was married to the evil Chang’s son.
LuLing then recalled the days in the missionary orphanage eventually fell in love with Kai Jing who is a geologist excavating the Peking man. Kai Jing was conscripted to war to fight for the communists against Japanese, pursued and killed by the Japanese. Gao Ling followed Sister Gustoff to America, Lu Ling had to make ends meet in Hong Kong in the meantime waiting for GaoLing to sponsor her. Finally Gao Ling was able to sponsor Yu Ling and they led a better life in America, burying their pasts.
While Ruth struggled with her own life with Mother’s dementia, she found the truth about her mother’s life and also the renewal of vows with Art, her partner with two step daughters.
There are a few paragraphs which I particularly like:
It is said parents pass along the cosmology to the children. In a house where dinner is a ritual, no talk, unless it’s argument. or meals are eaten catch-as-catch can. With just these contrasts, the child might grow up thinking either that day and night are predictable, though not always pleasant, or that the world is chaotic, frantic or freely evolving.
Sister Yu also told Lu Ling that self-pity is not allowed, it is self-indulgence. hmm…
It is also said Chinese people, unlike foreigners, did not try to push their ideas on others.
“It’s more than a thought. it’s a gift. you have to learn to take them sometimes, Ruth, You do yourself wrong when you don’t,” said Art. “What are you talking about?” “The way you want something form people, some kind of proof of love or loyalty or belief in you. But you expect it won’t come. And twhen it handed to you, you don’t see it. Or you resist, refuse.” Art continued. It was so like me, Amy Tan wrote it as if it describes me.
Ruth wondered what made people happy. Could you find happiness in a place? In another person? what about happiness for herself? Did you simply have to know what you wanted and reach for it through the fog?
I don’t know. I don’t really know what happiness is anymore.