The hardest part about finishing a book is always deciding what to read next. If the book one finishes is just mediocre, it makes the pressure to pick an even better book the next time that much harder.

I just finished Amy Tan’s The Bonesetter’s Daughter. Every time I picked up the book, I’d read a few pages and fall asleep. I figured, since I live in China now, maybe I should read a few books based in or about China. Even fiction by a Chinese author seemed to have appeal. Well, I read Joy Luck Club sometime ago and enjoyed it, so why not another novel by Amy Tan? Unfortunately, I wasn’t pleased with the final outcome of that decision.

“…what is the past but what we choose to remember?” – The Bonesetter’s Daughter

My 1-Sentence Summary: A Chinese American woman gains a better understanding of her family heritage and re-evaluates the relationships in her life, including that of her mother and long-term boyfriend.

Their Summary: LuLing Young is now in her eighties, and finally beginning to feel the effects of old age. Trying to hold on to the evaporating past, she begins to write down 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. LuLing can only look on, helpless: her prickly relationship with her daughter does not make it easy to discuss such matters. In turn, Ruth has begun to suspect that something is wrong with her mother: she says so many confusing and contradictory things . . .

Thoughts on the Book: Again, since I’m in China, it was interesting to read about a few things that I’m working hard to gain a better understanding of since my arrival. Namely, the language, history, food, and culture–the obvious stuff. I pushed myself to keep reading because the best parts of the Joy Luck Club, for me, were the mother’s histories. In The Bonesetter’s Daugther, LuLing, the main character’s mother, writes the truth about her Chinese past before she has a chance to forget it. She retells the story of how her own mother loved, lost, and even attempted suicide, leaving her scarred. LuLing, also shares her tale of what she believes is the cursed life that proceeds her mother’s disappointment and death. LuLing’s story ends before she arrives in America and her daughter Ruth returns as the novel narrator. For me, this is when the book returns to being the perfect curative for insomnia. While everything was tied in a neat bow by the story’s conclusion, it just wasn’t satisfying.

Excerpt: A few days after the future marriage was announced, the coffinmaker went back to the Mouth of the Mountain and surprised Precious Auntie as she was returning from the well. “You think you can insult me, then walk away laughing?”

“Who insulted whom? You asked me to be your concubine, a servant to your wife. I’m not interested in being a slave in a feudal marriage.”

As she tried to leave, Chang pinched her neck, saying he would break it, then shook her as if he truly might snap off her head like a winter twig. But instead he threw her to the ground, cursing her and her dead mother’s private parts.

When Precious Auntie recovered her breath, she sneered, “Big words, big fists. You think you can scare a person into being sorry?”

And he said these words, which she never forgot: “You’ll soon be sorry every day of your miserable life.”

Amy Tan’s Advice to Writers: One is to read a lot. Read both the classics and contemporary fiction. You also have to know what it is that you like, and then you can think about what your intentions are in writing and to see how your voice is different. As a writer I always think that it is your reasons for writing that are the most important, and in reading other fiction you see what other people have already done as an art form, as stories. You also get to see that there is a lot of great literature out there. So you really have to have good reasons for writing and the reasons have to be deep enough that they would sustain you even if you didn’t get published. I think that it’s really important to want to write beyond getting published. The other is that you have to formulate a number of questions to ask that have to do with your intentions. What you consider to be story, what you consider to be voice, what you feel about imagery and metaphor, and then you can refer to the answers to those questions during moments when you feel discouraged or need an injection of inspiration. It becomes a kind of compass you can look at.

Happy reading, y’all.