Amy Tan was born in 1952, in Oakland, California to Chinese immigrants John and Daisy Tan. Her family eventually settled in Santa Clara. When Tan was in her early teens, her father and one of her brothers died of brain tumors within months of each other. During this period Tan learned that her mother had been married before, to an abusive husband in China. After divorcing him, her mother fled China during the Communist takeover, leaving three daughters behind who she would not see again for nearly forty years.
After losing her husband and son, Daisy moved her family to Switzerland where Tan finished high school. During these years, mother and daughter argued over what Tan should do in college and afterwards. Tan eventually followed a boyfriend to attend college in San Jose, where she earned Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in English and linguistics, despite her mother’s wish that she study medicine.
After Tan married her boyfriend, Lou DeMattei, she began to pursue a Ph.D. in linguistics, but she abandoned this endeavor to work with developmentally disabled children. Later, Tan struck out as a freelance business writer. Although she was successful, writing for corporate executives did not fulfill Tan. She began to write fiction as a creative release.
Meanwhile, her mother suffered a serious illness. Tan resolved to take a trip to China with her mother if she recovered. In 1987, after Daisy Tan returned to health, they traveled to China to visit the three daughters that Daisy had not seen for several decades and the three sisters Tan had never met. The trip provided Tan with a new perspective on her mother, and it proved to be the key inspiration for her first book, The Joy Luck, a collection of sixteen interlocking stories about the conflicts between Chinese immigrant mothers and their American-raised daughters. Soon after its publication in 1989, The Joy Luck Club garnered enthusiastic reviews, and it remained on the New York Times bestseller list for more than six months. It won both the National Book Award and the L.A. Times Book Award in 1989.
Tan continues to publish popular works. She often emphasizes that she writes primarily to create a work of art, not to portray the Chinese-American experience, that her bicultural upbringing is the source of inspiration for her work, not the end product.
The Joy Luck Club contain stories about conflicts between Chinese immigrant mothers and their American-raised daughters. The book mainly talked About Jing-mei’s trip to China to meet her half-sisters, Chwun Yu and Chwun Hwa. Jing-mei’s mother, Suyuan, was forced to leave her twin babies on the roadside during her flee from the Japanese invasion of Kweilin. Suyuan intended to recover her children, but she failed to find them before her death. Finally, a after her mother’s life long search her mother received a letter from the two “lost” daughters. After Suyuan’s death, her mothers’ three friends in the Joy Luck Club, a weekly mahjong party that Suyuan started in China and later revived in San Francisco, urge Jing-mei to travel to China and tell her sisters about their mother’s life. But Jing-mei wonders whether she is capable of telling her mother’s story. Lindo, Ying-ying, and An-mei, members of The Joy Luck Club, do fear that Jing-mei might be right and that their own daughters may not really know them either.
The book tells different stories of each characters life, and in each story teaches a lesson or tells of the Chinese culture. For example, Chapter Two talks about An-mei’s grandmother raising her because she disproved of An-mei’s mother becoming a concubine. When Popo, An-mei’s mother is on her death bead, An-mei’s mother makes a soup and cuts a chunk of her skin off her arm and mixes it in with the soup out of respect for her mother although they didn’t get along. In Chapter Three it speaks of how Lindo was promised in marriage to Huang Tyan-yu when she was only two years old. They married when Lindo was sixteen years old, but the candle that is supposed to stay lit all night in order to symbolize lifelong loyalty even if her husband were to die was distinguished during the night so they were able to annul the marriage.
The book also shows how things that happen in childhood effect adult life. For example Rose, An-mei’s daughter was always responsible to care for her little brothers growing up. At the beach one day three of her brothers were fighting so she was told to break it up, but at that same time her youngest brother, Bing fell into the water without a trace. They looked everywhere for him but they gave up. They ended up finding Bing’s body the next morning. Later in her life Rose came to her mother telling her that she and her husband Ted were getting a divorce. They dated for many years before resulting in the both of them clinging to each other. Ted made all the decisions, but after he lost in a lawsuit he started to push Rose to make some of the decisions and said that she resisted in taking on any responsibility and blame. Her marriage was a result of her brother’s death and thinking although it was not her fault that it was her fault. Also another example of this is that Suyuan pushed her daughter, Jing-mei to become things that she was not. She wanted Jing-mei to become a pianist so she made her take lessons but Jing-mei never practiced. Suyuan and the piano teacher entered Jing-mei in a talent contest, but Jing-mei did very bad. As a child Jing-mei felt that she could never live up to her mothers high expectations. Suyuan did not realize how much her disappointment affected Jing-mei as a child. The book also speaks about how children take after their parental figures and internalize, even without meaning to, what their parent has taught them. An example of this is that Lena, Ying-Ying’s daughter has been married to her husband Harold for eight years and they split the cost of everything equally, although Lena consumes far less than Harold. Lena got Harold to open his own business and worked there as a project coordinator. She also gave him the idea of opening up a restaurant. When Ying-ying goes to visit them she notices the list of shared items on the refrigerator has ice cream on it. She also knows that Lena does not like ice cream and tells Lena that they must not share ice cream, so Lena tells Harold that and he agrees, but Lena picks a fight anyway. During the fight Ying-ying breaks a vase on the table and asks Lena why she didn’t stop it. Lena is silent in her marriage because she saw her mother silent in hers. Ying-ying tires to teach her daughter that expressing her wishes is not selfish on her visit because she does not want her daughter to make the same mistake she did. Another example of this is that a few months before her death, Suyuan cooked a crab dinner for the Chinese New Year. There was eleven people coming, but Suyuan hadn’t counted one. The guests chose the best crabs, and when Jing-mei went to choose a crab she was going to pick the one with a missing leg, but her mother insisted that she choose the better of the remaining two. This shows that Jing-mei is different than the others, but the others had to have the best just like their mothers.
Another part of the book touches on how the mother shows her daughter how to grow beyond her “innocence” without losing hope. It also shows how when a mother learns from her mistakes how she tries to teach her daughter without having to make the same mistake. Also this book demonstrates that the older generation can and does learn from the younger generation. An example of this is that due to Lena’s marriage trouble it forces Ying-ying to confront her painful first marriage.
Another major point this book touches upon is the fact that the American-raised daughters are Chinese not just through genes, but in personality, culture, loyalty, and respect. As a teen, Jing-mei refused her Chinese heritage and didn’t even want to believe she was Chinese at all until she went to China after her mothers death to meet her half sisters. While in China Jing-mei finds out that she did appreciate her mother although she was worried that she didn’t and knew nothing about her. She also realizes that she did not have to prove her Chinese identity to her two half sisters, that she belongs to their family automatically because of Suyuan. After her trip to China she “found” her mother and stops feeling doubt of her and Suyuan’s relationship with each other.
In The Joy Luck Club each mother and daughter learned different things from each other. Also, it talks about the transition from China to America and how the Chinese raised mothers must raise their daughters in America but keep their Chinese values. Jing-mei’s story represents her mother to her two half sisters as well as the struggle of relationships between mother and daughter.