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 step-mother 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 was raised by her mute, disfigured nursemaid Precious Auntie who was disfigured due to an attempted suicide. Although the oldest daughter in her family, LuLing was neglected by her mother in favor of her younger sister GaoLing. However, Precious Auntie was entirely devoted to caring for LuLing. Precious Auntie, the daughter of a local bonesetter, was the only person who knew the location of a hidden cave where many ancient “dragon bones” could be found. 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 she can lead them to the fossil cave. LuLing’s family approves of the marriage, but Precious Auntie violently opposes the match. She commits suicide when LuLing insists that she will marry Fu Nan, because Fu Nan’s father was involved with the death of Precious Auntie’s father and fiance. Only after Precious Auntie’s death does LuLing learn that her nursemaid was actually her mother. LuLing had grown up believing that her aunt was her mother, and that her cousin GaoLing was her sister. After Precious Auntie’s death, GaoLing marries Fu Nan who was addicted to opium and LuLing is sent away to a Christian orphanage where she becomes a teacher. Here she meets her first husband Pan Kai Jing. LuLing lives in the orphanage over World War II, 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. However tragedy was to strike once again and LuLing’s second husband dies from a hit and run accident when Ruth was 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 mother and her seemingly erratic behavior. Answers to both women’s problems unfold as LuLing’s story is finally revealed in its entirety.
Amy gives an overview of the book:
As a child Amy Tan believed her life was duller than most. She read to escape. Her parents wanted her to be a doctor and a concert pianist. She secretly dreamed of becoming an artist. She began writing fiction when she was 33. Her first short story was published when she was...