- The Bonesetter's Daughter
infobox Book |
name = The Bonesetter's Daughter
image_caption = First edition cover
author = Amy Tan
language = English
publisher = Putnam Adult
February 19, 2001
media_type = Print (
Hardcoverand Paperback) & Audio CD
pages = 400 pp
isbn = ISBN 0399146857
"The Bonesetter's Daughter", published in
2001, is Amy Tan's fourth novel. Like much of her work, this novel deals with the relationship between an American-born Chinese woman and her immigrant mother.
"The Bonesetter's Daughter" is divided into two major stories. The first is about Ruth, a Chinese-American woman living in San Francisco. She worries that her elderly mother, LuLing, is gradually becoming more and more demented. LuLing seems increasingly forgetful, and makes bizarre comments about her family and her own past.
The second major story is that of LuLing herself, as written for Ruth. Several years earlier, LuLing had written out her life story in Chinese. Ruth arranges to have the document translated, and learns the truth about her mother's life in China.
Ruth is a self-sufficient woman who makes her living as a ghostwriter for self-help books. She lives with her long-term boyfriend, Art Kamen, and acts as a stepmother to Art's two teenage daughters, Dory and Fia, from a previous marriage.
Meanwhile LuLing is showing signs of
dementia, Ruth struggles to juggle her mother's illness, her job as well as her relationship.
As an adult, Ruth struggles to understand her mother and her strange behavior during Ruth's childhood. Although she loves her mother, she also resents her for criticizing her harshly when she was young and forcing her to obey strict rules. LuLing also believed that young Ruth had the ability to communicate with the spirit world, and often expected her to produce messages from the ghost of LuLing's long dead nursemaid, Precious Auntie, by writing on a sand tray.
LuLing's autobiography makes up the middle section of the book. This story within a story describes LuLing's early life in a small Chinese village called Immortal Heart. LuLing is raised by a mute, burned nursemaid called "Precious Auntie." It is later revealed that Precious Auntie sustained her injuries by swallowing burning ink resin. Although the oldest daughter in her family, LuLing is ignored by her mother in favor of her younger sister GaoLing. However, Precious Auntie was entirely devoted to caring for LuLing.
LuLing's story goes further back, describing Precious Auntie's childhood as the daughter of a local bonesetter. The teen-aged Precious Auntie is the only person who knows the location of a hidden cave where many ancient "dragon bones" can be found, knowledge that she retains even after being burned and coming to live with LuLing's family. After the discovery of the
Peking Man, fossilized bones and information about where they might be found becomes extremely valuable. A local family, the Changs, wish to arrange a marriage between LuLing and their son Fu Nan because they believe that LuLing can lead them to the fossil cave. LuLing's family approves of the marriage, but Precious Auntie violently opposes it. Unable to speak in detail, she writes LuLing a long letter explaining her reasons, but LuLing does not read it.
Only after Precious Auntie's death does LuLing learn that her nursemaid is actually her mother, and that the woman she had thought to be her mother is actually her father's sister. After Precious Auntie's death, GaoLing marries Fu Nan and LuLing is sent away to a Christian orphanage where she completes her education, grows up and becomes a teacher. Here, she meets her first husband, Pan Kai Jing. LuLing lives in the orphanage as a teacher through World War II, often going to extreme lengths to protect the students from the Japanese soldiers and other dangers. A few years later she is reunited with GaoLing. The two "sisters" immigrate to America separately and marry a pair of brothers, Edmund and Edwin. LuLing's second husband dies from a hit and run accident when Ruth is two years old.
Ruth struggles growing up as the child of a single parent who believes in curses. Once Ruth learns the details of her mother's past, she gains a new understanding of her and her seemingly erratic behavior. Answers to both women's problems unfold as LuLing's story is finally revealed in its entirety.
The novel was made into an opera that premiered at San Francisco's
War Memorial Opera Houseby San Francisco Operaon September 13, 2008. Amy Tan penned the libretto, the composer is Stewart Wallace. The opera condenses the novel's plot through various devices: It omits peripheral characters and the subplot about the Christian orphanage and expands Chang the Coffin Maker into the key villain. He rapes Precious Auntie after killing her father, the Bonesetter, and unknowingly fathers LuLing. The score folds traditional Chinese brass and percussion into a Western orchestra, and Chinese classical musicians led by Wu Tongand Li Zhonghuaperformed at the premiere. The suona, a raucous reed horn, features in the orchestration and is played onstage several times. The character of Precious Auntie sings and moves in the kunjustyle of Chinese Operaand was created and enacted by kunju star Qian Yiat the premiere. The other members of the premiere cast included mezzo-soprano Zheng Caosinging the dual roles of Ruth and the youthful LiuLing; mezzo-soprano Ning Liangas Old LiuLing; bass Hao Jiang Tianas Chang; folk/pop vocalist and suona player Wu Tongas the Taoist priest; baritone James Maddalenaas Ruth's husband, Art Kamen; mezzo-soprano Catherine Cookas Art's mother, Arlene Kamen, and as Madame Wang in the flashback to Immortal Heart village; bass-baritone Valery Portnovas Art's father, Marty Kamen, with 14-year-old Madelaine Matej and 17-year-old Rose Frazier, respectively, playing Art's teen daughters, Dory and Fia Kamen. Chang's wives were played by Mary Finch, Natasha Ramirez Leland, and Erin Neff. The Dalian Acrobatic Troupeperformed aerial and floor stunts and played numerous supernumerary roles alongside the San Francisco Opera Chorus. The premiere was directed by Chen Shi-Zhengand conducted by Steven Sloane.
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