The Bonesetter's Daughter caught my eye at a used books stall at the Candlemass fair. I admit I was looking for something similar to Arthur Golden's Memoirs of a Geisha: a historical novel set in Asia before the Second World War, this time in China. On the first five pages, Amy Tan shows us LuLing, an old woman who tells about her childhood. The story drew me right in - and then the prologue ended, the book began, and LuLing's memories gave way to the present and to her daughter Ruth. This was a character I couldn't connect to: a woman living a boring life in modern-day America. Amy Tan shows us her everyday world in long-winded detail, down to the grocery shopping list. We get to know her in-laws, the people she works with, her partner's ex-wife... LuLing appears as the always-complaining elderly mother. Her Alzheimer's diagnosis fails to create any tension.
After a hundred pages we get a respite from Ruth's present: a chapter from her childhood. And finally, on page 147, the memoir of LuLing begins. Here I am thankful for every character, every vivid detail. LuLing tells her own story and her mother's: two lives with highs and tragic lows, secrets within secrets.
The memoir of LuLing fills almost 140 pages, but feels short. Too soon we find ourselves back with Ruth for several chapters more. All together, The Bonesetter's Daughter feels like a precious painting in a much too heavy frame. I might reread only the part about LuLing and her mother some day.
Christina Widmann de Fran
The Bonesetter's Daughter by Amy Tan was first published in 2001.
Several editions available on Amazon.co.uk.