Illustration of the profiles of a young woman and an older woman facting away from each other

The Joy Luck Club

by Amy Tan

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An-mei Hsu narrates, looking back to the days when she lived with her grandmother, Popo, and her aunt and uncle in China. Her family told her that her mother was a ghost even though she was not dead. Popo always scared An-mei with stories about bad girls, and the old woman became ill in 1923, when An-mei was only nine years old. An-mei was never to speak her mother’s name, and the portrait of her dead father seemed to stare at her and accuse her. Her younger brother was a thoughtless but mostly happy child, but their auntie was harsh with him, telling him that his mother married a man who had another wife. Their mother had no respect, their auntie said, and An-mei grew to feel unlucky about her mother.

An-mei’s mother returned one day as Popo was nearing the end of her life. An-mei watched her mother as she cared for Popo, and her mother tried to initiate a connection. Her mother rubbed the scar on An-mei’s neck, and An-mei remembered how she got that scar.

An-mei was four years old, and the family was gathered around the dinner table. An-mei’s mother was crying for her daughter, and Popo was insulting her. The soup pot fell, and the scalding soup splashed An-mei’s neck. When An-mei awakened in pain, her mother was gone. Popo told the girl that if she did not get well soon, her mother would forget her. Popo tended her granddaughter with care, and the burn became a scar.

Now An-mei watched as her mother tried to save Popo by cutting out some of her own flesh and making it into a soup. But Popo died. Yet An-mei felt that her mother had honored her grandmother with the gift of pain.

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