The Joy Luck Club, Amy Tan’s first book, is avowedly autobiographical. Like the Chinese American daughters in the book, Tan shunned her own heritage while growing up in San Francisco in the 1950’s and 1960’s. When Tan took her first trip to China in 1987, like her character June Woo, she embraced a cultural identity against which she had long struggled; The Joy Luck Club followed in 1989. Since then, Tan has published other major works of fiction. In The Kitchen God’s Wife (1991), a Chinese mother tells her daughter how her life has been distorted by male domination and class disparities. The Hundred Secret Senses (1995) concerns the relationship between a Chinese American woman and her Chinese half sister.
Tan is part of the generation of Asian American writers that first emerged in the 1970’s to give voice to stories that previously were little known in the United States. Maxine Hong Kingston’s autobiographical The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts (1976), which began this new wave, was both a critical and a popular success, and it provided at least a partial model for Tan’s tales about growing up Chinese American. By emphasizing mother-daughter conflict within the context of competing cultures, both The Woman Warrior and The Joy Luck Club provide fresh variations on classic themes of family relations and inheritance. For better or worse, in these books it is the female offspring who carry with them the aspirations of the previous generation.