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?