Pearl and her mother Winnie have a difficult relationship, which has only grown worse since Pearl’s father died years ago. But when Winnie’s friend Helen thinks that she might have an uncurable illness, she forces Winnie to talk to her daughter about the secrets of their previous life in China in the 1930’s. The biggest secret is that the father that Pearl adored might not be her biological parent.
Winnie’s previous husband is an absolute tyrant, a casual sociopath who delights in belittling and humiliating. The story is mostly about her surviving, about the war and how her friendships got her through, but what makes it fascinating is how little women were worth, how few options they had, how little control. It makes for tragic reading, but the story is often funny in the way that Winnie describes her long standing relationship with Helen, or with other characters around her. She’s a strong, enduring woman, scarred by the life events that shaped her.
I loved the way that so much history is packed into the story, and that it’s told from the female perspective. It’s inspiring to read about women surviving trauma and war. Like most Amy Tan novels, the story flows, weaving the past and the present, capturing characters idiosyncrasies and going to both the darkest and the lightest places of human experience. I really got a lot out of this book.
Read It If: If you’ve never read an Amy Tan book, this is a great one to start on. Otherwise, if you love stories about life, Chinese history and mother/daughter relationships, you’ll love this.