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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Critical Overview

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Both critics and the reading public loved The Joy Luck Club from the minute it came off the press in 1989. The book successfully crosses cultures and joins separate generations. An indication of the book's appeal is its translation into seventeen languages and its place on the New York Times bestseller list for nine months.

Literary experts appreciate Tan's skill in storytelling. They feel that she knows what makes a good story and that she handles dialogue well. In addition, they have commented that she aptly portrays the universal life cycles of life and death, separation and reunion, uncertainty and assurance. Her ability to empathize with her characters and her subject matter, observers note, makes her stories real. Readers of all ages, genders, and cultures can appreciate her insight and honesty.

Reviewers have referred to the common sense with which Tan writes about Chinese culture. Tan explores areas of Chinese life that most other writers have not attempted. Many critics note that this novel, as well as others Tan has written, stimulates cross-culture appreciation. Readers of all cultures are able to be objective about their own predicaments while at the same time making connections between themselves and Tan's Chinese characters.

In general, Tan's treatment of the mother/ daughter relationship and her understanding of her characters' ambivalence about their Chinese backgrounds provide an "intricate tapestry" that "alters the way we understand the world and ourselves, that transcends topicality," according to Michael Dorris in the Detroit News. Experts recognized Tan's talent, selecting her as a finalist in 1989 for the National Book Award for Fiction and nominating her for the National Book Critics Circle Award. She received not only the Bay Area Book Reviewers Award and the Commonwealth Club Gold Award, but also $1.23 million from Vintage for paperback rights; the book was also made into a popular film in 1993.

It is no wonder that Tan has sold over three million copies of The Joy Luck Club. As Dorris concluded, it is "the real thing."

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Critical Evaluation


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