I didn't cry hard the first time (or two) I read Joy Luck. I read it in 1991 for my American Ethnic Lit. class and loved it. I played Amy Tan in our group presentation and everyone was amazed at how much I knew about it (I read the book, several popular reviews, and an interview with Amy Tan before I presented on it. Apparently effort and thought was as unusual in a "gen ed" class at a big university in 1991 as it is in a small college now). By sophomore year I had abandoned taking Chinese, but still knew enough to write characters on the board and explain most of the phrases. The book in general and our presentation in particular made me feel exotic and sophisticated*.
The next year the movie came out. I saw it with my mother with some trepidation; we both loved the book. We had been also warned it was a tear-jerker. We worried about what they could have done with a sweet book of eight plot lines to make it a Hollywood tear-jerker. We saw it and we cried shamelessly for almost two hours. Mom made Dad go see it with her a week later and cried even more.
I shouldn't be surprised that the book now makes me cry. Charlotte's Web never made me cry as a child, nor Anne books, nor L'Engle books and now I can't read most of any of them without weeping. Still, I was taken aback to be blubbering enough to wake my husband this afternoon. It could have been missing my grandmothers, loving my mothers, missing unborn Ewaldina and thinking I'll never become pregnant again and missing my youth when I thought I could be an English, Chinese and Biology major simultaneously and could write the character for "joy luck"**, but I honestly felt I was crying for Jing-Mei Woo and her sisters.
So, I don't know quite what kind of a recommendation to give this book. Some of it felt far more contrived and silly than when I first read it. I've aged enough to say with confidence that a few of the stories don't interest me much. But most are good. The combination is very good. And one makes me sob.
*Someday I must delve into how knowing anything of a language makes one (me at least) feel as if I have acquired a greater part of the culture than just a few words.
**The character for "joy luck" is not obvious in the book. I need to go find it. It was actually why I was reading the book this year.
Image from Amazon where you can buy this book.