Wednesday 9 August 2023

Penguin Orange Classics - The Joy Luck Club

And I am sitting at my mother's place at the mah jong table, on the East where things begin.

Can't believe it is almost 35 years since The Joy Luck Club was published.  I was a young woman working in a library when this book came out (pre-internet and iphone) and I loved it then and have reread it many times over the years.  I had to treat myself to the Penguin Orange Classic paperback. Very classy cream and orange cover and I love the Chinese dragon entwined around the penguin!

All the motifs from the novel feauture on the front and back covers; Waverly's chess pieces, Jing-Mei's piano and the mah jong tiles where the 'aunties' play in each other's houses and invite Jing-Mei (June) to be the fourth corner after her own mother dies.

I think Best Quality is my favourite story in The Joy Luck Club where the rivalry between June and Waverly which began when they were children comes to a head. (Waverly was a child chess prodigy and June's mother forced her to play the piano).  At a crab dinner to celebrate Chinese New Year,  Waverly who was taught by her mother to always have the best selects the nicest crabs for herself, her husband and daughter while June picks the crab with a missing leg and her mother doesn't have one at all.  Waverly humiliates June during the dinner and June is close to tears. Her mother afterwards tells her not to worry about Waverly and gives her a jade necklace which is light green and tells her it will become darker with wear - proof of her self-worth and value.

June's distress at the crab dinner is of course tempered by the unintentional humour in the Chinese-English of the mothers:

"Suyuan! called Auntie Lindo to my mother. "Why you wear that colour?" Auntie Lindo gestured with a crab leg to my mother's red sweater.

"How can you wear this colour anymore? Too young!" She scolded.

My mother acted as though this were a compliment.  "Emporium Capwell." She said. "Nineteen dollar. Cheaper than knit it myself."

Auntie Lindo nodded her head, as if the color were worth the price.

The Joy Luck Club still reads as fresh as when it was first published. That is the liberating power of imaginative fiction.