Reading. Writing. Simply being.
I will start by admitting that this book took me two years to finish. Amy Tan has always been one of my favorite writers because of her ability to draw her readers into a culture just as if they were there with her. But for me, this did not happen until I got to page 433. All in all, I am disappointed to have trucked through it, but Tan had never steered me wrong….until now.
As usual, Tan’s main characters are strong women, and the men who come in and out of their lives drive the plot along. But, the characters are one too many and the details are too intricate to matter to the overall story. Basically, get on with it. The story centers around a mother and a daughter who are separated by an ocean and forced to survive with the circumstances handed to them. One goes to America to escape her life as a Chinese courtesan and find the son that was stolen from her, while the other stays in China to continue the life her mother brought her into. Mother and daughter finally reconvene after a rollercoaster saga with surprises at every turn.
Loss of innocence plays an important role in each woman’s story: Magic Gourd having no one else in her life for comfort, Lucretia becoming pregnant at a young age, Violet being left to fend for herself and Flora being lost in her own “family” and in her own self. The plot itself is fueled by this theme, but at times it just seemed to spiral out of control. Maybe Tan had one too many ideas? Maybe she didn’t know how the story should end?
Even though some of the novel didn’t meet my expectations, I can always find a good Amy Tan quote. Here are some of my faves.
“In any business negotiation, it is better to make the other party think they are benefiting more than you.”
“I noticed something different about you–an absence of a part of your spirit. Your eyes see but have stopped looking. The grief.”
“He didn’t love me, I didn’t love him. and never had. But now I was like a bird, my wings once carried on a wind of lies. I would beat those wings to stay aloft, and when the wind suddenly died or buffeted me around, I would keep beating those strong wings and fly in my own slice of wind.”
“You cannot change thousands of years of Chinese custom about shame in the family. We create our own laws in the Settlement and govern what a Chinese person can do. But there is no law you can use to disallow their philosophical outlook. Shame, honor, and obligation cannot be cast off. You will not be happy with your young man, or with Shanghai, if you think you can change that…I’ve heard all the complaints and have had some myself–their noisiness at odd hours, their standard of cleanliness, their selective understanding of punctuality, their inefficiency in doing something the way it has been done for a thousand years. They may alter it somewhat over much time, but they cannot change their fears, which govern much of what they do.”
“Teddy once told me that it’s natural that we feel alone, and that’s because our hearts are different from others and we don’t even know how. When we’re in love, as if by magic, our different hearts come together perfectly towards the same desire. Eventually, the differences return, and then comes heartache and mending, and, in between, much loneliness and fear. If love remains despite the pain of the differences, it must be guarded as rare.”
“The only being I would give myself freely to was Violet. I was her constant, the one who set the hours of dawn and dusk, who made the clouds by pointing to the sky, who armed the day by removing her sweater, who turned it cold by donning her coat, who thawed her chilled fingers with the magic of my breath, who made violets sweet by twirling them under her nose, who clapped her hands as I declared her loved, at every hour, in every place, so that she would feel as I did: She was the reason I lived.”
“I see it in your eyes. It’s finally happened. I’ve lost you. How stupid that I didn’t treat you better. I’m sorry… All my weaknesses didn’t mean my love for you was weak. I treated you badly and felt I could count on you to forgive me.”