The generation gap is a common theme right throughout the works of Amy Tan, and it crops up again in The Bonesetter’s Daughter. As if often the case in Tan’s work, we are presented with a young woman—the protagonist Ruth—who is thoroughly assimilated into American life and is therefore separated by a cultural and generational gap from her mother, who spent much of her early life in China before fleeing to the United States after the Japanese invasion.
Yet this large gap between LuLing and Ruth proves not to be surmountable. Once Ruth has acquainted herself with the manuscript that details LuLing’s life in China, she starts to gain an emphatic understanding of her mother’s experiences.
Through reading this epic tale of adventure, of Mongol bandits, magic bones, and the horrors of the Japanese invasion, Ruth can gradually begin to piece together many of the various fragments of her mother’s life, many of which had seemed so terribly mysterious. As someone used to writing other people’s books for a living, Ruth can finally put her job as a ghostwriter to good use. Now she can put herself in LuLing’s shoes, which serves to reduce the generation gap that has separated them for so long.
To be sure, LuLing still remains something of a mystery, which is what makes her such a fascinating character. And reading her manuscript can never, of course, eradicate Ruth’s resentment at the unpleasant treatment to which she’s often been subjected by her mother over the years. But acquainting herself with the almost unbelievable details of LuLing’s backstory does at least bring her closer to her mother in a way that would otherwise be unthinkable.