November/December Pick 2008

The Bonesetter’s Daughter

Image representing cover of The Bonesetter’s Daughter The Bonesetter’s Daughter
by Amy Tan

The inspiration for the recent San Francisco Opera performances, The Bonesetter’s Daughter, by Bay Area author, Amy Tan, is a multi-layered tale of the complex relationship of Chinese mothers and their American-born daughters.

Structured around three richly metaphorical themes—bones, ghosts and ink—this novel tells the stories of three generations of women, beginning at the turn of the twentieth century in a small Chinese village. There, a bonesetter, a skilled healer, defies tradition by teaching everything he knows to his daughter. Intelligent and willful, she vehemently rejects the marriage proposal of a vulgar coffin-maker. He curses her, setting in motion a tragic sequence of events that continues to unfold a century later in San Francisco, where a Chinese American woman finally reads the memoir her mother wrote for her.

Ruth is a ghostwriter for self-help books but the advice she formulates hasn’t helped her achieve genuine intimacy with her live-in boyfriend or cope with her argumentative mother. Ruth’s mother, LuLing, has long been haunted by the ghost of a woman she calls Precious Auntie. Born and raised in China and widowed since Ruth was a toddler, calligraphy artist LuLing still speaks stilted English in spite of decades of California life. Moving back home to care for LuLing, who appears to be afflicted with Alzheimer’s, Ruth is assailed by memories of her own difficult childhood and discovers that Precious Auntie, the bonesetter’s daughter, is actually her grandmother.

As Tan tells the stories of these three strong, self-sacrificing women, she weaves in stripes of vivid Chinese history, ponders what’s bred in the bone and celebrates the preservation of family history as an act of love and a conduit for forgiveness.

For On the Same Page, the Library has purchased the Ballantine Books trade paperback edition of The Bonesetter’s Daughter. It is also available at the Library in large print and audiobook formats and in Chinese and Spanish language editions.

Photo od Amy Tan About the Author

Amy Tan created the libretto for the opera, The Bonesetter’s Daughter, from her novel of the same name. She is the author of numerous books including The Joy Luck Club, The Kitchen God’s Wife, The Hundred Secret Senses, Saving Fish from Drowning and two children’s books, The Moon Lady and The Chinese Siamese Cat, which has been adapted as Sagwa, a PBS series for children.

Tan was also the co-producer and co-screenwriter of the film version of The Joy Luck Club, and her essays and stories have appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies. Her work has been translated into more than twenty-five languages. Tan, who has a master’s degree in linguistics from San Jose University, has worked as a language specialist to programs serving children with developmental disabilities. She lives with her husband in the San Francisco Bay Area and New York.

Of Related Interest

Amy Tan’s Website

Reading Group Guide for The Bonesetter’s Daughter

SF Opera – The Bonesetter’s Daughter

SFGate article about the creation of the opera

Fate! Luck! Chance! : Amy Tan, Stewart Wallace, and the making of the Bonesetter's Daughter opera / by Ken Smith

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