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3 8 4 WAL 3 7 .3 F a l l 2 0 0 2 The Bonesetter’s Daughter. By Amy Tan. N ew York: G . P. Putnam ’s Sons, 2001. 353 pages, $25.95. Yellow: Stories. By Don Lee. N ew York: W.W. Norton, 2001. 255 pages, $22.95. Reviewed by Seiwoong Oh Rider University, Lawrenceville, N ew Jersey Within the rapidlygrowing bodyofAsian American literature, AmyTan and Don Lee embody two opposite impulses. In her fourth novel following such previ­ ous hits as The Joy Luck Club (1989), The Kitchen God’s Wife (1991), and The Hundred Secret Senses (1995), Tan again takes her readers to a guided tour ofpre­ modem China, this time to an obscure village near Peking. Lee’s first book, on the other hand, takes us to the fictional town ofRosarita Bay, California, in which he finds engagingcharacters forhis collection ofeight stories loosely connected bythe same setting. While Tan’s protagonists are almost always women victimized by a misogynist culture, Lee’s are mostly male, many of them Korean Americans like the author, whose love affairs are complicated by their ethnicity. Where Tan’s strongcharacters areChinese orChinese immigrants, Lee’scharacters areAmericans of Asian descent, two or more generations away from their immigrant ancestors. In short, while Tan rehashes her successful formula, Lee, a long-time editor of Pbughshares, heralds the beginning of a new phase of Asian American literature, exploring the contemporary world ofpost-immigrant Asian America. The Bonesetter’s Daughter is first narrated by Ruth, a middle-aged Chinese American ghostwriter living in Californiawith her boyfriend and his two daugh­ ters. As her immigrant mother, Luling, shows signs of dementia, she begins to investigate her mother’s past, to be able to preserve her mother’s memory. A translation of Luling’s autobiography written in Chinese makes up the second part of the novel, in which we learn about the tragic life of Ruth’s grand­ mother, a famous bonesetter’s daughter, as well as Luling’s life in China prior to her immigration to the United States. Ruth again takes over the narrative in the third and final part to describe how she comes to embrace her mother as a whole person. Although criticized for pandering to the mainstream’s taste for the exotic, Tan persists in feeding the racial fantasy of mainstream America by portraying Chinese culture as superstitious, misogynist, ghost-filled, secretive, and polyga­ mous. Her narrative humor is commonly subversive of Chinese culture, and again she gives her readers a tourist version of China—bound feet, opium addicts, zodiac signs, and fortunetelling. Despite her commercialism and “political incorrectness,” she is no doubt a great storyteller, giving us another accessible, captivating tale of three generations of women. Tan is also skillful in weaving a multivocal narrative interspersed with humor, magic realism, and intriguing cultural elements. As usual, her strength lies in her lively portrayal of the language and endearing eccentricity of immigrant BOOK REVIEW S 3 8 5 women. Particularly noteworthy in the new novel isher theme-driven approach. By constantly juxtaposing the lives of Ruth and her mother, especially in terms of their relationship with their mothers, Tan drives home her favorite motherdaughter theme. Also, by portraying Luling as suffering from dementia and by having her guilt-ridden daughter desperately sort out truths from hallucinations, Tan develops the theme of memory with multiple doses of irony: “Dementia was like a truth serum,” says Ruth (308). If Tan’s (mis)representation of China and Chinese America appears all too familiar, Lee’s Yellow drags us out of Chinatown and into an all-American town of Rosarita Bay, Lee’s counterpart of William Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha and Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio. In Lee, Asian American litera­ ture is dynamic and exciting, exploring the ambiguities inherent in human experiences. The first of the eight stories, “The Price of Eggs in China,” is a quasicrime story in which the author explores the irrational nature of love: a Japanese American chair maker, caught in the rivalry between his girlfriend and her for­ mer college friend, does whatever is necessary to win his girlfriend’s confidence. “Voir Dire,” the next story, is a court...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1948-7142
Print ISSN
0043-3462
Pages
pp. 384-386
Launched on MUSE
2017-10-04
Open Access
No
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