An Old Favorite: The Joy Luck Club


This past year I’ve been re-reading some of my favorite books from years past. I know many people don’t like doing that but, for me, it’s very much like visiting old friends. And now Alyce from At Home With Books is sponsoring a weekly gathering to share My Favorite Reads.




The Joy Luck Club

by Amy Tan

Putnam, 1989

My Rating: A+

The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan is a favorite read from the 1990’s. First let me share the summary from Wikipedia:

The book focuses on four Chinese American immigrant families who start a club known as “the Joy Luck Club,” playing the Chinese game of Mahjong for money while feasting on a variety of foods. The book is structured somewhat like a mahjong game, with four parts divided into four sections to create sixteen chapters. The three mothers and four daughters (one mother, Suyuan Woo, dies before the novel opens) share stories about their lives in the form of vignettes. Each part is preceded by a parable.

The club itself is actually for the four mothers. The woman who died, Suyuan, was the creator of the club while she was still in China. The other three members ask Suyuan’s daughter to take her place in the club. And thus begins the journey of understanding the experiences, the dreams and the hopes of the mothers. Suyuan’s daughter learns why her mother created the club.

“I thought up Joy Luck on a summer night that was so hot even the moths fainted to the ground, their wings were so heavy with the damp heat. . . .

“My idea was to have a gathering of four women, one for each corner of the mah jong table. I knew which women I wanted to ask. They were all young like me, with wishful faces. . . .

“Each week one of us would host a party to raise money and to raise our spirits. The hostess had to serve special dyansyin foods to bring good fortune of all kinds –dumplings shaped like silver money ingots, long rice noodles for long life, boiled peanuts for conceiving sons, and of course, many good-luck oranges for a plentifulk sweet life.

As is often the case with immigrant families, the daughters of the Joy Luck Club were raised to be independent Americans and to go their own way. They were fuzzy on the stories of the old country. Now as Suyuan’s daughter starts to learn her mother’s story, the other daughter’s become involved as well.

Why is this a favorite book? I liked meeting these eight women but for me the basic question of the book is this: How well do we, as daughters, know our mothers and how do we, as mothers, know our adult daughters? For the eight women of the Joy Luck Club there was a big gap in understanding. As the mothers began to share the tales of their horrific experiences in China and the daughters began to tell of their lives, we all began to understand each other. This is a character rich and a literary rich novel. I highly recommend it.

The Joy Luck Club is available at Amazon

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15 Responses to An Old Favorite: The Joy Luck Club

  1. Beth F says:

    This is also a favorite of mine. I loved the contrasts between the immigrant parents and American-born children, between old and new, traditional and modern.

  2. I’d like to do the “Back to the Future” thing and see my parents as a peer so I could **really** find out what they were like!

  3. Molly says:

    I have certainly heard of this title, but was never sure if it was a book that I would enjoy. I love a good character-driven book, and the contrasts between mothers/daughters in this book sound quite intriguing.

  4. Barbara says:

    What I would give to describe characters as well as she does, i.e. “wishful faces.” I’ve read some of her books but missed this one. That will soon be remedied for sure.

  5. Ti says:

    To date, this is probably my favorite Tan novel and the movie wasn’t bad either. Very close to the book actually.

  6. Heather J. says:

    You’re right, this is truly a wonderful book! Thanks for highlighting it today!

  7. Staci says:

    Great choice…one of my favorites for sure!

  8. Alyce says:

    I’ve read this before and will be reading it again this month for book club. I don’t remember a lot about the book other than that I enjoyed reading it. It was nice to get your take on the book. I didn’t know that the book was structured like the game of mahjong.

    As I face challenges in life that my sons don’t realize I’m going through I have actually been wondering about things that my mom went through and about how much I really understand and know her. There were times when I was a teenager when she wouldn’t listen when I was talking to her and at the time I was just angry about it, now I wonder what was happening in her life that she could have been so distracted.

  9. Belle says:

    I really enjoyed this one – some of the descriptions really resonated with me, although my mother had a very different upbringing than the mothers in the book. I liked the movie, too!

  10. Belle says:

    Just thought of something – maybe we’ll get to read the screenplay for this movie as part of Michael’s challenge! I’d enjoy that.

  11. Stacy says:

    I was thinking about putting this in my read-a-thon pile and now I will 🙂

  12. Jenners says:

    This is an oldie but a goodie!

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