By Amy Chan
I picked this up because my dearest cousin’s studying this book for her exams this year. It’s such a typical ‘literature’ book, the sort you can pick apart and analyse in class because of the oh-so-deep meaning. The JLC focuses on 4 Chinese-American immigrant families. The 4 women of the family start a club where they get to play mahjong (the gambling game? It’s quite common here, technically not allowed but I see old people playing it sometimes in the void decks) and eat good food and, of course, gossip. Each has a daughter. One of the mothers dies before the story begins, and her daughter is asked to take her place in the JLC. So the story is divided into parts, two for each daughter and each mom. Spoiler: all their lives have been messed up, haha.
The JLC is a book I must have read when I was very young, maybe 10, and I remembered a few parts. I had to re-read it and keep a list of character names in a Notes page on the side to keep up, though, because I lost track of who was related to who. So it’s a lot of characters and although you see hints of the girls’ lives intersecting, the moms are talking about their younger days for the most part.
Some parts, and some stories, are so much more interesting than others! So if you pick this up, you can in fact just flip through the pages of that one character you don’t like, because it wouldn’t seriously hinder you understanding the others. I mean, not Jing-Mei and her dearly deceased mother Suyuan, since their stories kind of lead on to more real-world things happening throughout the book, but the rest, feel free. It is a good book. Interesting stories, flitting back and forth between China and the US quite freely. The author, of course, is American – she’s in fact gotten quite a lot of flak for giving really negative impressions of Chinese culture and adhering to lots of Western stereotypes of China, so I would take things with a grain of salt.
Oh, but the best part of the book is how accurately they get moms comparing daughters. Because each of the daughters’ stories has elements of “my mom compared me to another daughter from the JLC growing up” and the other daughter will have the same experience; just how parents’ comparisons hurt their children and hurt these girls’ relationships – but to absolutely no end!