This is one of my favorite books of all time. Anyone who loves things China needs to read this book. Written by Chinese American author Amy Tan, it is the story of four women who emigrated from China to give their daughters a better life. Each month the four women get together to talk and play Mahjong. They describe in detail each of their lives and hardships they faced as they grew up in China and eventually make their way to the US. It then tells the story of each of their daughter’s lives and the much different struggles they endure. The first one of the women was sold to a family as a bride at the age of fifteen, the second was forced to see her mother suffer and kill herself, dying before her eyes, the third was terribly abused by a man she thought she loved. She killed their infant son because it was the only thing she could take from him and cause him pain. She kept this horrible secret to herself. The fourth mother was forced to abandon her twin babies, unable to endure the burden of carrying them all the way south to safety as she fled the escalating violence of the Sino-Japanese war. The daughters had different issues. The first one wanted to please her husband, but lost her self in doing so. The second daughter’s family did not like her fiancé. The third daughter had the opposite problem; her fiancé’s family did not accept her. And finally, the fourth daughter who is the half-sister of the two babies abandoned by their mother must go to China to inform her sisters of their mother’s death. The hard lives of the mothers influenced how they raised their daughters. They all shared a common wish to give their daughters more opportunity and a better life in America. The relationships between the mothers and daughters are complicated, often strained; old ways verses new. The daughters struggling to balance their American lives while respecting the culture of old so desperately being kept alive by their mothers.
The book was also made into a film in 1993 and honestly, it is the only film that has ever brought tears to my eyes.
I can think of no better film to describe the life and hardships of Chinese American Immigrants in the early 20th century. It is a film that I believe every Chinese American should see. Generations old and new. This is one of very few films that has touched my heart, and I hope it touches yours as well.