The Joy Luck Club Book summary

Amy Tan




The Joy Luck Club was inspired by the author’s troubled relationship with her mother. Amy Tan had not anticipated the success that her first book would find and had been convinced by her literary agent to pursue the publication of this collection of short stories. The book won several critical awards and was significantly commercially successful as it remain at the top of the New York Bestseller list for a long time. The book was adapted into a Hollywood film in the 1990s, and it had the distinction of being the first American movie whose cast was predominantly made up of individuals from an Asian-American background. The book is divided into 16 stories and it is organized just as one would play four hands of the game.


Plot Summary


This collection of short stories focuses on Chinese women living in San Francisco during the 1980s. The novel is divided into four parts, and each part contains a fable as well as four short stories featuring one of the characters from the four Chinese mother-daughter pairs that are featured in this novel. In the first short story, June is invited to her mother’s old Mahjong club called the Joy Luck Club, two months after her mother’s death. June’s mother had founded a similar club when she had been in China to inspire more hope among her friends. June knows that her mother had been forced to abandon two daughters on the side of the road when China had been invaded by the Japanese. During the Mahjong club, her mother’s friends tell her that someone has traced down the children that her mother had lost in China, they offer June the airfare to go to China and speak to her mother’s children to tell them about Suuyan. June is very taken aback and thinks that she cannot do what is being asked of her because she does not think that she knew her mother. This upsets all of the older women at the table, as they worry that their daughter would feel similarly about them. The following stories detail the lives of the members of the Joy Luck Club and their daughters.

An-Mei Hsu grew up with her grandmother and uncle’s family in China, and they did not like to speak of her mother because she had brought them dishonor by becoming a concubine to a merchant. An-Mei got to know her mother when she came to the house while her mother was dying. She decided that her mother was a good woman and so decided to leave the house with her, even if that meant she would be similarly dishonored. An-Mei learned that her mother had been forced to become the merchant’s concubine after she had been raped by him. Her mother commits suicide before a Chinese festival so that she can ensure An-Mei’s security. An-Mei’s daughter Rose suffers great trauma at a young age when her youngest brother Bing dies while she is watching over him at the beach. She ends up in a bad marriage, but her mother helps her stand up for herself.

Lindo Jong is betrothed to a neighbor in China, and she grows up in the house of her in-laws where she is treated worse than a servant. Lindo figures out a way to save herself from the terrible marriage without bringing any dishonor to her family. She moves to America and marries again. Her daughter Waverly is very gifted at chess, and she is recognized as a prodigy but her relationship with her mother becomes very difficult. Waverly begins to see her mother as an opponent and loses her ability to play chess well after she quits the game for a brief period to spite her mother. They remain at odds with one another until Waverly is in her late 30s, and they figure out a means to make peace with one another. Yin-Ying St. Clair is born into a very wealthy family in China, but she becomes lost during a Chinese festival at the age of four. She feels lost nearly all the time afterward, and she ends up marrying an adulterous man in China. Ying-ying leaves the man and aborts his child. She waits for ten years and learns that her first husband has died, then she marries an American man. She moves to America has a daughter and suffers another miscarriage. Her daughter Lena has a troubled upbringing due to her mother’s depression and develops poor self-esteem. She ends up in a bad marriage, but her mother eventually helps her understand that she needs to put an end to her marriage.

June goes to Shanghai with her father to meet her mother’s twin daughters and learns in great detail about the difficulties that her mother had faced which had forced her to abandon her children. June felt like her mother had wanted her to be a prodigy like Waverly, and always thought that her mother was disappointed in her. Over time, June comes to understand her mother better and recognizes that her mother had always loved her. She meets her stepsisters and instantly feels a connection with them. 

  • Author(s)

    Amy Tan
  • Publication date

    January 1st 1989

  • Language


  • Classification

    Historical Fiction

  • Pages



Asian Literature


G. P. Putnam's Sons

Related books