Bonesetter's Daughter (Tan)

The Bonesetter's Daughter 
Amy Tan, 2001
Random House
400 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780345457370


Summary
In memories that rise like wisps of ghosts, LuLing Young searches for the name of her mother, the daughter of the Famous Bonesetter from the Mouth of the Mountain. Trying to hold on to the evaporating past, she begins to write all that she can remember of her life as a girl in China.

Meanwhile, her daughter Ruth, a ghostwriter for authors of self-help books, is losing the ability to speak up for herself in front of the man she lives with and his two teenage daughters. None of her professional sound bites and pat homilies works for her personal life: she knows only how to translate what others want to say.

Ruth starts suspecting that something is terribly wrong with her mother. As a child, Ruth had been constantly subjected to her mother's disturbing notions about curses and ghosts, and to her repeated threats that she would kill herself, and was even forced by her to try to communicate with ghosts. But now LuLing seems less argumentative, even happy, far from her usual disagreeable and dissatisfied self.

While tending to her ailing mother, Ruth discovers the pages LuLing wrote in Chinese, the story of her tumultuous and star-crossed life, and is transported to a backwoods village known as Immortal Heart. There she learns of secrets passed along by a mute nursemaid, Precious Auntie; of a cave where "dragon bones" are mined, some of which may prove to be the teeth of Peking Man; of the crumbling ravine known as the End of the World, where Precious Auntie's scattered bones lie, and of the curse that LuLing believes she released through betrayal.

Like layers of sediment being removed, each page reveals secrets of a larger mystery: What became of Peking Man? What was the name of the Bonesetter's Daughter? And who was Precious Auntie, whose suicide changed the path of LuLing's life? Within LuLing's calligraphed pages awaits the truth about a mother's heart, what she cannot tell her daughter yet hopes she will never forget. (From the publisher.)



Author Bio
Also named—En-Mai Tan
Birth—February 15, 1952
Where—Oakland, California, USA
Education—B.A., M.A., San Jose State University
Currently—San Francisco, California and New York, NY


Amy Tan is a Chinese-American writer, many of whose works explore mother-daughter relationships. Her first novel, The Joy Luck Club (1989) brought her fame and has remained one of her most popular works. It was adapted to film in 1993.

Tan has written several other books, including The Kitchen God's Wife, The Hundred Secret Senses, and The Bonesetter's Daughter, and a collection of non-fiction essays entitled The Opposite of Fate: A Book of Musings. Her most recent book, Saving Fish From Drowning, explores the tribulations experienced by a group of people who disappear while on an art expedition in the jungles of Burma.

In addition, Tan has written two children's books: The Moon Lady (1992) and Sagwa, the Chinese Siamese Cat (1994), which was turned into an animated series airing on PBS. She has also appeared on PBS in a short spot encouraging children to write.

Tan's work has been translated into more than twenty-five languages. She has a master's degree in linguistics from San Jose University and has also worked as a language specialist to programs serving children with developmental disabilities.

She resides in Sausalito, California with her husband, Louis DeMattei, a lawyer who she met on a blind date and married in 1974.

Tan is a member of the Rock Bottom Remainders, a rock band consisting of published writers, including Barbara KingsolveAlso named—En-Mai Tan
Birth—February 15, 1952
Where—Oakland, California, USA
Education—B.A., M.A., San Jose State University
Currently—San Francisco, California


Amy Tan is a Chinese-American writer, many of whose works explore mother-daughter relationships. Her first novel, The Joy Luck Club (1989) brought her fame and has remained one of her most popular works. It was adapted to film in 1993.

Early yeaars
Tan is the second of three children born to Chinese immigrants John and Daisy Tan. Her father was an electrical engineer and Baptist minister who traveled to the US to escape the Chinese Revolution. Although she was born in Oakland, California, her family moved a number of times throughout her childhood.

When she was fifteen, her father and older brother Peter both died of brain tumors within six months of each other. Tan subsequently moved with her mother and younger brother, John Jr., to Switzerland, where she finished high school at the Institut Monte Rosa in Montreux.

It was during this period that Tan learned about her mother's previous marriage in China, where she had four children (a son who died in toddlerhood and three daughters). Her mother had left her husband and children behind in Shanghai — an incident that became the basis for Tan's first novel, The Joy Luck Club. In 1987, she and her mother traveled to China to meet her three half-sisters for the first time.

Tan enrolled at Linfield College in Oregon, a Baptist college of her mother's choosing. After she dropped out to follow her boyfriend to San Jose City College in California, she and her mother stopped speaking for six months. Tan ended up marrying the young man in 1974 and subsequently earned both her B.A. and M.A. in English and linguistics from San Jose State University. She began her doctoral studies in linguistics at University of California-Santa Cruz and Berkeley, but abandoned them in 1976.

Career
While in school, Tan worked odd jobs — serving as a switchboard operator, carhop, bartender, and pizza maker. Eventually, she started writing freelance for businesses, working on projects for AT&T, IBM, Bank of America, and Pacific Bell, writing under non-Chinese-sounding pseudonyms.

In 1985, she turned to fiction, publishing her first story in 1986 in a small literary journal. It was later reprinted in Seventeen magazine and Grazia. On her return from the China trip with her mmother, where she had met her half-sisters, Tan learned her agent had signed a contract for a book of short stories, only three of which were written. That book eventually became The Joy Luck Club and launchd Tan's literary career.

Extras
In addition to her novels (see below), Tan has written two children's books: The Moon Lady (1992) and Sagwa, the Chinese Siamese Cat (1994), which was turned into an animated series airing on PBS. She has also appeared on PBS in a short spot encouraging children to write.

Tan is a member of the Rock Bottom Remainders, a rock band consisting of published writers, including Barbara Kingsolver, Matt Groening, Dave Barry and Stephen King, among others. In 1994 she co-wrote, with the other band members, Mid-Life Confidential: The Rock Bottom Remainders Tour America With Three Chords and an Attitude.

In 1998, Tan contracted Lyme disease, which went undiagnosed for a few years. As a result, she suffers from epileptic seizures due to brain lesions. Tan co-founded LymeAid 4 Kids, which helps uninsured children pay for treatment, and wrote about her life with Lyme disease in a 2013 op-ed piece in the New York Times.

Tan is still married to the guy she ran off with from Linfield College and married in 1974. He is Louis DeMattei, a lawyer, and the two live in San Francisco.

Books
1989 - The Joy Luck Club
1991 - The Kitchen God's Wife
1995 - The Hundred Secret Senses
2001 - The Bonesetter's Daughter
2003 - The Opposite of Fate: A Book of Musings (Essays)
2005 - Saving Fish from Drowning
2013 - The Valley of Amazement
2017 - Where the Past Begins: A Writer's Memoir
(Author bio adapted from Wikipedia and the author's website.)

r, Matt Groening, Dave Barry and Stephen King, among others. (Adapted from Wikipedia and the publisher.)



Book Reviews
Tan's splendid new novels abounds not only with tellers and listeners, but with people who truly understands stories....
New York Times Book Review


Splendid.... [W]hat marvelous characters she gives us.... Tan's decision to tie up all the loose ends...does not mar the real ending, for which Tan's superb storytelling has amply prepared us.
Nancy Wilard - The New York Times Book Review


In the end, it's the novel's depth of feeling that resonates and lingers. Tan writes with real soul.
The Washington Post Book World


Finding emotional healing in the face of disease has launched a thousand Movies of the Week, but in the hands of a writer as generous as Tan, it's a subject that still resonates as an antidote to grief.
Yvonne Zipp - Christian Science Monitor


(Audio version.) Tan's empathetic insight into the complex relationship of Chinese mothers and their American-born daughters is again displayed in her latest extraordinary, multi-layered tale.… Tan deftly handles narrative duties as Ruth, the exasperated but loving daughter.
Publishers Weekly


The novel builds slowly…. But the elaborate preparation pays generous dividends in the stunning final 50 or so pages: abeautifully modulated amalgam of grief, pride, resentment, and resignation…. Tan strikes gold once again.
Kirkus Reviews



Discussion Questions
1. Bones constitute an important motif in The Bonesetter's Daughter. What is the significance of the book's title? How does breaking a bone change Ruth's life and her relationship with her mother? What importance do bones hold for LuLing and Precious Auntie?

2. Each year, Ruth makes a conscious decision not to speak for one week. Why does she elect to go silent? In which ways does this self-imposed muteness mirror the challenges faced by both her mother and by Precious Auntie? How does Ruth find her voice as the novel goes on?

3. From childhood onward, Ruth is locked in a constant struggle with her mother. In which ways does her behavior echo LuLing's rebellion against her own mother? How do these conflicts have violent consequences, both physical and emotional?

4. To frame the novel, Tan uses the device of a story within a story. How is this effective in bringing past and present together?

5. How does LuLing come to life in her own words, and how is that vantage point different from Ruth's point of view? How is the LuLing that springs to life in her manuscript different from the figure Ruth grapples with on a regular basis?

6. LuLing begins her story, "These are the things I must not forget." Why is she so adamant about remembering—and honoring—what has come before? In contrast, what is Precious Auntie's attitude toward the past? In which ways does she recast prior events, thus concealing the truth from LuLing? How does Ruth grapple with what she uncovers about the history of her family, and what it means for her future?

7. Ruth is shocked to learn that her aunt, GaoLing, is not her mother's real sister. How does the relationship between the two women defy theadage that blood is thicker than water?

8. How does the dynamic between LuLing and GaoLing evolve as the book unfolds? What emotions does LuLing feel most strongly toward GaoLing, and vice versa? Why?

9. Although GaoLing speaks English fluently, by contrast, LuLing never learns to communicate effectively in the language, instead relying on Ruth to be her mouthpiece. How is the spoken word depicted in this novel? Is it more or less important than the written word? How does LuLing communicate in other ways—for example, artistically?

10. How does the concept of destiny shape the lives of both Precious Auntie and LuLing? How does each woman fight against the strictures of fate? In the modern world, does destiny hold as much weight? Why or why not?

11. Both Precious Auntie and LuLing lose love in tragic ways. How is romantic love depicted in The Bonesetter's Daughter? How does Ruth's concept of love differ from that of her grandmother's and mother's? Does LuLing's conception of love evolve over time?

12. LuLing is introduced to Western ideas and religion while living and working in an American-run orphanage. How does she reconcile these different ideologies with the beliefs she holds? Does her belief in her family's curse fade or blossom within the confines of a different societal framework?

13. How does LuLing forge a new life for herself in America? In which ways does she remain constrained by the past, and in which ways does she triumph over it?

14. Which of GaoLing's characteristics enable her to adjust to America with more ease than her sister? Which make it more difficult?

15. "Orchids look delicate but thrive on neglect." In which way does this idle musing by Ruth apply to the other relationships in the novel, including her own with Art and his children?

16. Ruth has lived with the specter of Precious Auntie her entire life. How does her mother's obsession with Precious Auntie affect Ruth? Do you view Precious Auntie's presence next to Ruth in the last scene of the book as a figurative or a literal one? Why?

17. Based on her manuscript alone, the translator of LuLing's story becomes fascinated with her. What about her story, in your opinion, is so alluring and transcendent? How does her fading mind open her to new experiences?

18. As LuLing loses her memory, how does her story become more clear to Ruth? How does Tan explore the transience of memory in The Bonesetter's Daughter?

19. Ruth works as a successful ghostwriter. How is this profession significant, both literally and figuratively, in her communication with her mother and with the world around her? How has her professional life opened Ruth to the world around her, and how has it shut her off?

20. What significance do names and their nuances have in The Bonesetter's Daughter? Why is it so important that Ruth discover her family's true name? When Ruth discovers what her own name means, how does that realization change her relationship with LuLing?
(Questions issued by publisher.)

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