On February 19, 1952, Amy Tan is born in Oakland, on the eastside of San Francisco Bay. Her parents both emigrated to the USA from Shanghai, China, in 1949. Her father became an electrical engineer and later a Baptist minister.
Being Asian-American, Tan wants to conform to American culture as much as possible during her teens: "I used to think I had come down the wrong chute, out of the wrong womb. I was supposed to have been born into a nice Caucasian family on the East Cost."1
Her parents put high pressure on her, which is not always easy to cope with for the young girl: "So I grew up thinking I would never, ever please my parents. [...]It's a horrible feeling, especially when you experience what you think is your first failure and you think your life is over."2
After the death from brain tumours of both her father and her older brother, the family moves to Europe, where Tan completes her secondary schooling in Montreux, Switzerland.
She returns to the USA for university and after changing college five times, mainly because of arguments with her mother, she finally graduates with a degree and an MA in Linguistics from San José State University. She meets Louis De Mattei there, who she marries in 1974.
Although her parents always wanted her to become a neurosurgeon and a concert pianist by hobby, Tan instead starts her career as a freelance business writer in 1983 to work for companies such as IBM and Apple Computer.
Also being a consultant to programs for disabled children, as well as a reporter and an editor, she eventually discovers her passion for fiction writing. Her first story "Endgame" wins her admission to the Squaw Valley Writer's workshop, the story appears in several magazines. A literary agent discovers Tan's abilities and encourages her to complete an entire volume of stories.
At about this time, however, Tan's mother falls very ill and makes her daughter promise her a trip to China in case of recovery. So the two depart for China in 1987 after the mother regained her health. Finding new inspiration through this trip and the close contact to her mother, Tan finishes The Joy Luck Club, which instantly climbs all best-seller lists.
Into this novel, she weaves her mother's stories and her own impression of her mother's country, saying:
"I wanted her [my mother] to know what I thought about China and what I thought about growing up in this country [the USA]."3
Her following books (The Kitchen God's Wife, The Moon Lady, The Chinese Siamese Cat and The Hundred Secret Senses) only confirm her good reputation by enjoying excellent sales.
Today, Amy Tan is one of America's most popular novelists and lives with her husband in San Francisco.
Amy Tan's first novel - The Joy Luck Club - was published in 1989. It consists of a collection of interrelated stories and deals with the history and experiences of four Chinese mothers who immigrate to the USA and their four American-born daughters.
The stories are placed in four sections of four stories each: the first set is told by the mothers, followed by two by the daughters and a last one by the mothers. It has been argued that this carries great symbolic weight, since in Taoism these numbers are important (see also www.mindspring.com for further information), but in any case, it makes it possible to show two different perspectives of one and the same topic mixed closely together.
Although the mothers come from very different backgrounds and areas in China, fate has been unkind to all of them in its special way and has finally led to the immigration. In the US, they get to know to each other and meet on a regular basis to play mah jong together in the "Joy Luck Club", where the title of the book is to be found. The name of the club, however, dates back to one of the mothers, who founded it many years before in wartime China "in order to transmute the painful history of women like herself into a communal expression of defiance and hope"4. At first, the club maybe stands for similar values in America as well, but later, as everybody gets better integrated, it is rather a meeting of good friends than a help to survive.
The mothers tell their history from their childhood to the current situation in the US, whereas the daughters' stories mainly deal with their present lives. The reader, however, is also presented a new perspective of how they were raised in America and obtains a new kind of view on the mothers, who are not always regarded kindly by their progeny. One gets to know the conflicts between mother and daughter resulting of the opposing mentalities they have and we finally understand why each one is the way she is (see also chapter III. and chapter IV.).
In the end, in all cases, mother and daughter are reunited and will be able to bear their problems much better because they gained understanding of each other and also know now why their counterpart acts the way she does.
Lindo Jong grows up in a modest family in China who betroths her at the age of two to an even younger boy. Her parents give her to his family when she turns twelve, since they have to leave the region because of a disastrous flood that destroyed their house.
Four years later, after great humiliation by her mother-in-law, Lindo finally has to marry, but never gets the child she is expected to have because her husband refuses to sleep with her. This, although it is not her fault, brings her in bad trouble, but she arrives to make the marriage declared broken and is therefore able to turn away from her husband and his cruel family. Which is important, however, is that Lindo never breaks the promise given to her mother that she would never bring shame on her family, but that she gets away from the marriage with the help of a cunning trick without disgracing her family's reputation.
Lindo immigrates to San Francisco, where she gets to know Tin, who she marries in order to get a child to be allowed to stay in the US. She even finds love in this marriage and the they have two sons and a daughter, Waverly, who tells the other stories in the novel.
Waverly grows up in Chinatown playing in the streets like all the other children, but then spends her youth playing chess until she becomes a national chess champion at early age. Despite her talent, she cannot win any more after a serious argument with her mother and she stops playing altogether.
The relation between Lindo and her daughter never gets relaxed again (see also chapter III. about the problems they have), and when Waverly falls in love with a boy at High School, she runs away with him. She even gets a daughter, Shoshana (the only third-generation character in the novel), but the marriage quickly leads to a divorce because her mother makes Waverly see everything negative in the man she loves.
Soon, she gets to know to Rich Shields and the two plan to marry. Nevertheless they do not dare tell Lindo, who seems to disapprove of Waverly's husband. In the end, however, the daughter finds out that her mother would never want to destroy her love, but that she always tries to give her child the best possible. They stop arguing, because Lindo and Waverly have gained understanding of each other and they plan to visit China together. It remains uncertain to the reader, if they really do this, but one has nevertheless understood that a balance between mother and daughter has finally been achieved after all those years of problems.