Amy Tan's The Joy Luck Club was her first published novel (in 1989) and is about mother-daughter relationships. In the novel, the stories are sometimes biographical to Amy Tan's life (e.g., when she meets siblings as an adult that she never knew she had, from her mother's first marriage in China).
The book is sectioned into four parts; the stories of the mothers and daughters are inter-mixed with each other. Each of the mothers is a member of the Joy Luck Club, and the stories deal with each mother, with related stories that deal with the mother and her daughter, and their relationships—showing how the mother-daughter relationship impacts both women.
One part is about Jing-mei , her mother, Suyuan—founder of the Joy Luck Club, and Jing-mei's father, Canning Woo. Growing up, June and her mother have a great many disagreements. June cannot handle being Chinese in America, and her mother doesn't seem to be able to understand her. When her mother dies suddenly, June travels to China with her father to visit her mother's homeland, and in doing so, discovers a great deal about her mother and herself.
A portion focuses on An-mei, who (with her brother) lives with her grandmother (Popo), an aunt—with "a tongue like hungry scissors eating silk cloth" and an uncle. An-mei does not live with her mother who has "lost face" and has been disowned by the family. When An-mei is nine, Popo dies, and An-mei leaves with her mother to live in the home of her mother's wealthy husband (Wu Tsing) and his other wives. An-mei learns how her mother was forced into a dishonorable marriage with Wu Tsing when he raped her so she would be forced to marry him, thereby—ultimately—giving him a son; because of what he did, she has had no control over her own life. Wu Tsing fears ghosts. An-mei's mother commits suicide so that her husband's fear of her ghost will force him to care for both of her children (An-mei and her young son) after her death.
An-mei grows up and moves to San Francisco, marries and has seven children. Rose is one of their children who marries Ted. He has an affair and divorces Rose. She learns to deal with his betrayal. Her story is connected to An-mei's.
Another section deals with Lindo who marries Tyan-yu—who will not sleep with her. Lindo manages to be honorably released from her marriage; she also travels to San Francisco where she marries and has three children, one a daughter named Waverly. Here again is a story of a mother and child who have their differences and learn to resolve them as Waverly grows to be an adult. Their biggest problems revolve around Waverly's fiancé, but mother and daughter are able to finally work through the obstacles that separate them.
The final section is about the fourth mother, Ying-ying. She comes from a wealthy family, almost dying when she was four. She is very full of herself and grows up, marrying a vulgar man who leaves her when she gets pregnant. Ten years later (when her first husband dies) Ying-ying marries again, and she and her husband move to San Francisco. They have one daughter, Lena. Ying-ying and her relationship with her daughter are affected by Ying-ying's depression. Lena grows up to be hard, but without spirit. Ying-ying believes this is her fault for losing the spirit of the "tiger" that once lived in her when she was younger, and she believes that she must fight with her daughter to release the "tiger" hidden within her, certain that this strength will help Lena.