I was a bit disappointed by The Bonesetter’s Daughter, by Amy Tan. It is the third book I’ve read by her, and it felt very similar to the other two (The Joy Luck Club and The Kitchen God’s Wife). Like her other books, the main theme is a troubled relationship between a Chinese immigrant mother and her American-born daughter. The conflict and the issues the daughter struggled with in this book did not feel new to me, but rather like rehashing of the same thing that was in the two previous books I read.
One of the reviews on the back cover of my copy describes The Bonesetter’s Daughter as “A strong novel, filled with idiosyncratic, sympathetic characters, haunting images, historical complexity, significant contemporary themes, and suspenseful mystery.” This gave me high hopes for the book but I just didn’t find it all that compelling. Besides the sense that the themes were not fresh, I also was not grabbed by the supposedly haunting parts or by the supposedly suspenseful mystery (assuming I even have the right mystery in mind – there were a couple aspects that could be considered a mystery, but neither in the detective sense).
The first part of the book is in the present day from the third person point of view of the daughter. In the middle of the book, it switches to a first-person narrative of the mother’s childhood, and then the last portion of the book returns to the present day. I found myself getting bored and losing interest during the memoir-style narrative of the mother’s life in China. It really did read like someone’s memoir, albeit a well-written one, with very detailed and at times almost tedious descriptions of the events. I kept reading only because I was eager to find out how the book would end (which it did in a satisfying manner). Normally I like historical fiction (which is essentially what this section of the book was) so it surprises me a little that it did not keep my interest better.
Amy Tan is a good writer, and that makes her books worth reading. Overall The Bonesetter’s Daughter was a good, but not great, read.