Together in Spirit

An online reading group ('TIS a reading group!) to bring together friends, and friends of friends, who aren't able to be in a conventional reading group due to constraints of time or geography.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Compelling yet incredulous

I also found this book a compelling read and a fascinating insight into Chinese culture. I thought Tan was very perceptive in a lot of her observations of human relationships and, like Emily, found the interaction between Winnie and Helen particularly engaging. I enjoyed the balance of need and frustration between them and the different way in which they interpreted events and memories.

I also found the mother/daughter relationships very moving. The theme of broken communication came across very powerfully: enforced between Winnie and her own mother and her subsequent feelings of abandonment paralelled with that of Winnie and Pearl as they each dealt with their bereavement over Jimmy Louis and Pearl's adolescence in a Western culture.

In this way, I enjoyed the opening in California and found it an effective setting for the reminiscence. I loved Tan's description of Winnie as an over-protective mother and the tension between Western and Chinese culture as embodied by the different generations. In this sense I thought the first half of the book promised much.

However, I agree with Valerie that by about the middle of the book, Winnie's suffering became incredulous and her abuse by Wen Fu handled in such a heavy handed way that it rendered the ending of the story ludicrous. Why would a woman, abandoned and abused by all those who claimed to love her, jump from an abusive marriage into the arms of another man? I felt Tan belittled the debilitating effects of rape and sexual abuse by enabling Winnie to create a new life so easily and trustingly.

Consequently, I found the ending to be ineffective. The effects of the past must have scarred deep and indeed Winnie admits to feeling ashamed of what had happened, hence the concealment from Pearl. Therefore, to allow one confession to right all seemed hugely simplistic to me. Similarly why would Pearl, having feared her mother's over-protective reaction to the news of her illness, take comfort from it when it eventually comes? I'm all for a hopefull ending but I thought this one was overly optimistic.

Did anyone else feel like this about the ending?

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Blogging again

Thanks to Emily for posting my blogs while I was unable to. Signing into New Blogger has done the trick. Now to Amy Tan.
The Kitchen God's Wife was the second book of hers I have now read and I felt about the earlier book (The Bonesetter's Daughter) as I did about this one. I cannot say that I enjoyed it. It was certainly a compelling, but also an exhausting read. (I felt the same after reading Dan Brown.) I think you liked the book, Emily, for some of the reasons that I did not which I find interesting. Perhaps one has to be in the right mood, which is rather unfair on the book.

The author has plenty of imagination and likes to put all the ideas in. She keeps you wondering what on earth can happen next. Misery and misfortune were plentiful and if losing one baby isn't enough, Winnie has to lose three, her half brother is unfairly executed, her mother disappears, her father sends her away, she is not welcomed by her aunts and so it continues. She is married into a bad family and on several occasions her friends betray her to Wen Fu, in spite of knowing the kind of man he is. At each turn there are almost insurmountable problems.

Amy Tan brings to life the Chinese culture from the women's point of view and includes interesting historical detail. This seems to be her main aim and I would have preferred to have the Chinese story as a straight narrative, (albeit, edited). The events in California seem an unnecessary addition to the story. She is a very fluent writer and, as Emily said, gives a vivid picture of the various settings of the story.

I would call this book a pot-boiler, with a story that stretches credulity quite a long way. Winnie certainly has a good memory, with the amount of detail that pads out the story. I was rather impatient, having to wade through this while waiting for the denoument of the current crisis. I breathed a sigh of relief on reaching the end!

Saturday, February 03, 2007

February/March's choice

Thought I'd suggest it now, to give you chance to acquire it... Since we're still busy reading, suggest this is for posting on during February/March as it suits...

And it is: "A Winter Book" by Tove Jansson. Nice and SHORT. Those of you who have "The Summer Book" and haven't read it yet, I suggest NOT reading them back to back since I suspect they'll be fairly similar. But I for one am keen to read the newer one, so will be giving it a go.