Last night I finished Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club. I shut the book and stared at the wall, trying to keep the story inside me, in my veins. I only feel that way when I read something that hits a nerve, that makes me reflect on and feel about my life. This was the first book I’ve read as a part of this little endeavor (and the first book in a long, long time) that’s drawn that reaction from me.
I plucked it from the library shelf as a part of my most recent effort, to read what I loosely consider to be “modern classics.” It’s funny because I’d already read about three chapters of it between the literature anthology textbooks I’ve had in high school, but I didn’t know that until I saw the chapter listings. I liked the stories then when I read them individually–but when all of the viewpoints and pieces are combined, the result is really, really special. Each chapter is from the point of view of one of four Chinese mothers and four Chinese-American daughters.
The result is a poignant picture of the relationships between the foreign-born mothers and the american-born daughters. As the half-white, American daughter of a beautiful woman from India, this story lodged itself in me in an unexpected way.
Although all of the stories in The Joy Luck Club were compelling, for me the most powerful was that of Jing-mei Woo and her mother, who has recently died, leaving her to struggle with regrets and hopes. The bitter moments are when she feels like she never knew her mother at all. The peaceful moments are when she feels that maybe she has. This confrontation with reflection made me reflect on my relationship with my own mother.
Like the mothers in book, my mom has ended up far, far away from the life she envisioned she would have as a child in India. She never thought she would come to America, or marry an American and raise two children in a society so different from the one she grew up in (and she’s done a marvelous job, if I do say so myself). But like the daughters in the book, it is so hard for me to picture her as anything besides my mother. Sometimes she talks about India, usually just the good parts, the monkeys and the sweets. But I find it difficult to connect the girl she describes with the mom in front of me. I recognize that there is a world that I can’t imagine that has made her the woman she is today, a woman who has had many roles, only one of which I know. There have been struggles and joys in her past that I can’t begin to understand.
But reading this book, I realized that I want to. Jing-mei only discovers the true sum of her mother, her mother’s love and greatness, after her mom has died. I want to know now, for a reason that is hard to explain but incredibly, wordlessly important. Jing-mei makes a pilgrimage to China after her mother’s death.
But my mom and I plan to make this journey together. If everything works out, we plan to travel to India sometime in the next few years. After reading The Joy Luck Club, I realized how important this trip will be.