Ruth Young is a professional ghostwriter, proud of her flourishing career but a bit tired of the constant demands of her aging mother and her busy boyfriend. Sometimes she even struggles to get along with her boyfriend’s daughters, two girls who used to adore her. As her mother’s condition worsens, Ruth finds herself much more interested in her mother’s history and tries to discover the roots of who she is and why they are both the way they are. With the help of her mother’s handwritten life story, Ruth may be able to find peace and resolve the many conflicts that are straining her life.
This was an “eh” book for me, but I don’t think it necessarily would be for everyone. I have a habit of ignoring book summaries in favor of just reading them straight, and this is often both a good idea and a bad idea. It’s a good idea because I really hate spoilers and I find most books are best read without any previous knowledge of anything. It’s a bad idea because if I have no idea what a book’s about, I can’t really tell if it’s something I’m not going to like, especially if I think it’s something different. And that happened here. I knew there was some modern day component, but I didn’t expect it to be two thirds of the book.
The story of Ruth’s mother is sandwiched between two halves of Ruth’s modern day life. While I really enjoyed the middle section, especially because I’ve developed a practically insatiable craving for historical fiction about China, I just didn’t like the parts about Ruth. I don’t think this is the book’s fault. I don’t like most books set in the present unless they have a little something extra to them, like fantasy or horror, or if they’re about an experience I’m completely unfamiliar with. I’m just not really interested in emotional family relationships, especially not when they’re set in a world I live in. So when I realized the whole book was mostly about Ruth’s adjustment of her modern day life, trying to fit her Chinese mother in more harmoniously with her American life, I was disappointed and I got through those parts as fast as possible.
Of course, I loved the middle section, and I really wish the whole book had just been historical fiction about Ruth’s mother. LuLing’s life and voice are powerful and moving. I was truly fascinated by her story of Precious Auntie, her nursemaid with a past to be mourned, and her own life’s progression when she realizes the truth. I was so disappointed when this section ended! I could have happily continued reading for much longer, but unfortunately the book switches back to Ruth about when LuLing is ready to leave for the United States.
I’m not going to avoid further books by Amy Tan, but I probably won’t actively seek them out if they have that central focus on modern day women. If, however, you enjoy women’s fiction AND historical fiction, I think The Bonesetter’s Daughter would be a great fit for you.
I am an Amazon Associate. I purchased this book.