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The Bonesetter's Daughter

The Bonesetter's Daughter
Amy Tan

February 19th, 2001








Literature & Fiction

Rating: 4.0 / 5.0 (344 votes)

Released: 2001-02-19

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The Bonesetter's Daughter by Amy Tan

Description

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 to kill herself, and was even forced by her mother 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.

Set in contemporary San Francisco and in a Chinese village where Peking Man is being unearthed, The Bonesetter's Daughter is an excavation of the human spirit: the past, its deepest wounds, its most profound hopes. The story conjures the pain of broken dreams, the power of myths, and the strength of love that enables us to recover in memory what we have lost in grief. Over the course of one fog-shrouded year, between one season of falling stars and the next, mother and daughter find what they share in their bones through heredity, history, and inexpressible qualities of love.


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Editorial Review

At the beginning of Amy Tan's fourth novel, two packets of papers written in Chinese calligraphy fall into the hands of Ruth Young. One bundle is titled Things I Know Are True and the other, Things I Must Not Forget. The author? That would be the protagonist's mother, LuLing, who has been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. In these documents the elderly matriarch, born in China in 1916, has set down a record of her birth and family history, determined to keep the facts from vanishing as her mind deteriorates.

A San Francisco career woman who makes her living by ghostwriting self-help books, Ruth has little idea of her mother's past or true identity. What's more, their relationship has tended to be an angry one. Still, Ruth recognizes the onset of LuLing's decline–along with her own remorse over past rancor–and hires a translator to decipher the packets. She also resolves to “ask her mother to tell her about her life. For once, she would ask. She would listen. She would sit down and not be in a hurry or have anything else to do.”

Framed at either end by Ruth's chapters, the central portion of The Bonesetter's Daughter takes place in China in the remote, mountainous region where anthropologists discovered Peking Man in the 1920s. Here superstition and tradition rule over a succession of tiny villages. And here LuLing grows up under the watchful eye of her hideously scarred nursemaid, Precious Auntie. As she makes clear, it's not an enviable setting:

I noticed the ripe stench of a pig pasture, the pockmarked land dug up by dragon-bone dream-seekers, the holes in the walls, the mud by the wells, the dustiness of the unpaved roads. I saw how all the women we passed, young and old, had the same bland face, sleepy eyes that were mirrors of their sleepy minds.

Nor is rural isolation the worst of it. LuLing's family, a clan of ink makers, believes itself cursed by its connection to a local doctor, who cooks up his potions and remedies from human bones. And indeed, a great deal of bad luck befalls the narrator and her sister GaoLing before they can finally engineer their escape from China. Along the way, familial squabbles erupt around every corner, particularly among mothers, daughters, and sisters. And as she did in her earlier The Joy Luck Club, Amy Tan uses these conflicts to explore the intricate dynamic that exists between first-generation Americans and their immigrant elders. –Victoria Jenkins

Book Details

Author: Amy Tan Publisher: Putnam Adult Binding: Hardcover Language: English Pages: 400

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