The Bonesetter’s Daughter – Amy Tan

December 21, 2009 § 10 Comments


“Sometimes I feel like I’m a pair of eyes and ears, and I’m just trying to stay safe and make sense of what’s happening. I know what to avoid, what to worry about. I’m like those kids who live with gunfire going off around them. I don’t want pain. I don’t want to die. I don’t want to see other people around me die. But I don’t have anything left inside me to figure out where I fit in or what I want. If I want anything, it’s to know what’s possible to want.

The Bonesetter’s Daughter speaks of the journey that is life, for two women. I use the word ‘speak’ here, because I feel the book truly did speak to me. I heard from Ruth herself, how difficult it was to grow up with a mother obsessed with curses and bad luck. And then I hear the story of Ruth’s mother, LuLing, and how it is that she has become the woman she is today.

It’s a book that is set both in the present and the past; in America and in China. It’s a story that has both hope and despair, dreams and nightmares.


The Bonesetter’s Daughter is, at the core of it all, a story about a mother’s love. Despite all the differences that mothers and daughters almost always have, at the end of it all, when we as daughters look back and reflect, we’ll soon come to realise that all that criticism of us never being able to get anything right, of us always being second to everyone else, in plain finding fault in everything we do.. Those things come back to us as signs that our mothers care.

Often I complained to Precious Auntie that Mother did not love me. Stop your nonsense, Precious Auntie would answer. Didn’t you hear her today? She said your sewing stitches were sloppy. And she mentioned your skin was getting too dark. If she didn’t love you, why did she bother to criticize you for your own good? And then Precious Auntie went on to say how selfish I was, always thinking about myself. She said my face looked ugly when I pouted. She criticized me so much I did not consider until now that she was saying she loved me even more.

Which one of us has never felt like our mothers ‘ruled over our lives’? I know that when I was younger, everything had to be my mother’s way, or the highway. And I still remember doing something naughty one day, thinking she wasn’t looking, only to have her say, “No, put it down.” I looked back at her, and sure enough, she wasn’t looking my way! So how did she know?!

Although she was clear across the playground, she heard everything, saw everything. She had magic eyes on the back of her head.

That’s what I thought.

Being ethnic Chinese, there are a lot of things that I felt I could relate to, especially old traditions and common courtesies. But then again, not coming from China (nor do I have deep roots set in China, if any at all!), I felt like I was learning and seeing something new, getting different perspectives.


Ruth is a book doctor. There were a couple of quotes in the book I was particularly drawn to:

“I’m not an expert on anything. But I love language in all forms – sounds and words, facial expressions, hand gestures, body posture and its rhythms, what people mean but don’t necessarily say with words. I’ve always loved words, the power of them.”


Dementia. Ruth puzzled over the diagnosis: How could such a beautiful-sounding word apply to such a destructive disease? It was a name befitting a goddess: Dementia, who caused her sister Demeter to forget to turn winter into spring.


I’m including this book for the Women Unbound Challenge. I think Amy Tan managed to explore the mother-daughter relationship very well. I think it is especially difficult for generations that grew up in such different cultures. On the one hand you have a mother who is practically embedded in the ways of the old days, when so much was forbidden, and on the other hand you have a daughter who now lives in a land of opportunities. There is bound to be conflict, but perhaps through conflict, we get to know each other better, and we also get to understand ourselves a lot more.


Rating: 4

Enjoyable. I’ll be reading another Amy Tan soon, I hope. Any suggestions which one I should be reading next?

P.S. Ruth asked her boyfriend/husband a question. “What’s your favourite word?” I think it’s a great question, one that doesn’t get asked often enough, nor get honest enough answers.

My favourite word is ‘dreams’, because dreams hold everything there is to one’s soul. It can be whimsical, but it offers a glimpse of your true desires and intentions. It can be strong and guide you towards your path. I think one cannot live without dreams. It is because we have dreams that we wake up the next day.

What’s your favourite word?

Challenges: Random Reading Challenge, Women Unbound Challenge


§ 10 Responses to The Bonesetter’s Daughter – Amy Tan

  • Christy says:

    It’s been too long since I’ve read Bonesetter’s Daughter for me to comment. However, I do remember being blown away by the slow burning The Kitchen God’s Wife by Amy Tan.

  • mee says:

    I’m glad you liked the book! The mother-daughter relationship and culture clash element are the ones that drew me the most to Amy Tan’s books. To be honest I have forgotten a lot of plots of her books as I read them all in quick succession before. But I remember, like Christy, being blown away by The Kitchen God’s Wife, which is semi-biography of her mother.

  • claire says:

    So glad you liked it! I’ve read all of her books, and my favourites by far are The Joy Luck Club and The Kitchen God’s Wife. Pick either one and you won’t go wrong. 🙂

  • su says:

    @ Christy: I see a lot of recommendations for The Kitchen God’s Wife. =)

    @ mee: This is my first Amy Tan book, but I remember watching The Joy Luck Club when I was little, and those themes were also very dominant. Quite intriguing themes, I would say.

    @ Claire: It’s a toss between both those books really, because I want to read The Joy Luck Club and watch the movie again, but The Kitchen God’s Wife is being promoted to me left right center!

  • Sakura says:

    I’ve only read The Joy Luck Club but I loved it. It really spoke to me about the Asian way of showing how much you care about your family. I haven’t read anything else by Tan, but I’ve been meaning to, and I think my sister has another of her books. I may just have to sneak it out of her house.

  • I read The Joy Luck Club earlier in the year (only Amy Tan I’ve read), and found it quite interesting. Most commenters recommended The Kitchen God’s Wife, but I’m still to read it.

  • su says:

    @ Sakura: “the Asian way of showing how much you care about family”. That’s quite an interesting way to put it. I’ll venture that it’s quite different for different cultures, even within Asia itself.

    @ anothercookie: It seems that way. I’m probably going to read other titles before coming back to Amy Tan for the moment though.

  • susan says:

    Hi Michelle,

    I’ve linked your review for Color Me Brown Links.

  • Olugbemisola says:

    Great review, I liked this one too. Another vote for The Kitchen God’s Wife — that book was devastating in so many ways.

  • su says:

    @ Olugbemisola: Too many votes for The Kitchen God’s Wife. I have to hunt it down. Thanks for dropping by.

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