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Archive for Thursday, May 3, 2001

May 3, 2001

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Publisher: Putnam, 353 pages

Price: $25.95

West meets East in 'Bonesetter's'

By Meghan Fryett

mag@ljworld.com

In Amy Tan's long-awaited fourth novel, "The Bonesetter's Daughter," she again twists stereotypes. Ideas clash when West meets East, but when these ideas are inside the same family, bonds far stronger than words meld them together.

For seven years Ruth Young ignores the sheaf of Chinese papers given to her by her mother, LuLing Lui Young. As a middle-aged woman who makes her living as a ghostwriter of self-help books, Ruth lives with her lover of 10 years, helping to raise his daughters from a previous marriage. Following her mother's diagnosis of Alzheimer's and possible dementia, Ruth is afraid she won't know who she is or where she came from before her mother's fragile

memory has vanished. Ruth searches for any answer to her identity and rediscovers two sets of her mother's writings, one titled "These are the things that I know are true" and the other "These are the things I should not forget." Perhaps too late, Ruth finds the key to her identity in her hands.

The bulk of the novel is dedicated to LuLing retelling her childhood in a dusty little village in China during the 1920s. LuLing was born with the world already against her, raised as a bastard child of a disfigured suicide maiden. Her family, longing to be rid of her and all that she represents, shuns the young girl. She is brought to an orphanage run by American missionaries, left to her fate. There she meets her future husband, and after a short but happy marriage, she loses him to the Chinese/American War. Many trials and tribulations later, LuLing emerges in America to finally overcome her mother's curse.

brought up in Tan's trademark setting of San Francisco, has a more Western way of thinking. Men are frequently portrayed as hedonistic and cruel, selfish and abusive. The entwined histories between China and the United States are apparent throughout, mirroring the lives of the same people on each side of the world.

Plot similarities aside, Tan writes with a refined hand that takes the reader on an exploration of the human psyche through the depths of evasive identities and memories. Even when the plot becomes thick with grief and tragedy, the prose smoothes over the text to leave no trace of worry:

Tan draws on the recurring theme of memory throughout the genealogy of the Young/Gu family, showing that LuLing and Ruth are not the first to feel lost and confused. She also uses the evasiveness of Alzheimer's to prove that not only is memory precious, but that it may not always be what it appears.

Despite the Hollywood ending, Tan keeps this novel from going stale by reinventing her characters with a refreshing earnestness that carries the weight of the plot from chapter to chapter. Her magnificent writing style keeps the read interesting and worthwhile. Regardless of all the reasons the novel could easily be dismissed as "just another one of Tan's books," the magnetism of her characters and the elegance of prose make "The Bonesetter's Daughter" a heartfelt pleasure to read.

Meghan Fryett is a junior majoring in English at Kansas University. She was a student in English 362 -- Professional Writing: Book Reviewing this semester.

-- The Mag can be reached at 832-7178.

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