Part 1, Chapter 1 Summary

Amy Tan’s novel The Bonesetter’s Daughter (2001) explores the difficult and complex relationship between a daughter and her mother—a theme that has affected several of Tan’s works, including her best-selling first novel, The Joy Luck Club (1989). Nancy Willard reviewed The Bonesetter’s Daughter in The New York Times; she wrote that although readers of Tan’s novels might recognize this familiar theme, this book is by no means a “rehash of Tan’s earlier books.”

The protagonist of The Bonesetter’s Daughter is Ruth Young, who has, in the past eight years, developed an annually occurring case of laryngitis. For several days each August, Ruth loses her voice. At first this annoys her. However, as time goes on and the inability to speak comes upon her so regularly, she decides to transform the malady into an opportunity for a retreat. Before August twelfth of each year, Ruth informs those around her that she will be entering a place of silence in order to sharpen her awareness and appreciation of language. Ruth is a professional ghost writer, a wordsmith, so her silent retreat makes sense to her family and friends.

During one of her silent retreats, Ruth comes cross an old manuscript her mother had given her. Her mother, LuLing, was born in China. She had told Ruth that the manuscript contained her memoir. LuLing said Ruth had little time to offer her, so she made the effort of recording her personal stories so that one day Ruth would know her history. Unfortunately, her mother wrote the memoir in Chinese characters. Ruth has only a basic knowledge of the meaning of Chinese logograms, so she had set the manuscript aside, and it became buried in the bottom drawer of her desk. Later Ruth rummages through the contents of this drawer and rediscovers the memoir. She promises herself that she will have someone more fluent in Chinese writing translate the story for her.

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(The entire section is 539 words.)