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Title: The Bonesetter's Daughter
Author: Amy Tan

Summary:Tan explores the conflict between American born children and their Chinese born parents and considers the conflicts faced by many women determined to find independence while acting as caretakers. The story focuses on the mother-daughter relationship by interweaving the stories of American born Ruth, a successful freelance ghostwriter and her mother LuLing, who was widowed shortly after Ruth was born. It begins at the turn of the 20th century in a small Chinese village, where the bonesetter, a skilled healer, defies tradition and teaches his daughter everything he knows. Intelligent and willful, she vehemently rejects the marriage proposal of the vulgar coffin-maker, who curses her, thus setting in motion a tragic sequence of events that continue to unfold a century later in San Francisco.

1. How do the metaphors for silence, writing, communication, and translation function in the novel? Precious Auntie's lover, Hu Sen says she has "the language of shooting stars." This image evokes the mystery, wonder, and danger of communication. Luck and burning.

2. How does the sense of timelessness or history repeating develop the intentions of the novel? LuLing translates for Precious Auntie, much as Ruth translates for her mother and then for her book writer clients. What are the limits of translation? Of
communication? LuLing also rebels against Precious Aunt in the same way Ruth rebels against LuLing. What are other parallels?

3. Memory plays an important role in The Bonesetter's Daughter. How is Ruth's life affected by her childhood memories? How do LuLing's memories affect her behavior around Ruth?

4. How does LuLing attempt to convey the difficulties of her fornlative years to Ruth? Does she succeed? Why/why not? In the constant sparring between Ruth and LuLing, who do you think is at fault?

5. Much of The Bonesetter's Daughter revolves around superstition. How does this aspect of Chinese culture affect LuLing' actions? Is Ruth superstitious? Does she realize that she is manipulating her mother as a child?

6. Why does Ruth try so hard to distance herself from her Chinese heritage?

7. Why does Ruth lose her voice once a year on August 12th? In what way does Ruth "regain" her voice by the end of the novel?

8. How does Ruth use her professional talents to her advantage? In what way does her job stifle her ability to communicate? Are there any inherent advantages of Ruth's uncanny ability to "spin gold out of dross"?

9. How is LuLing affected by the family curse? How does she react when she learns of her mother's true identity? In your opinion, was it wrong for Precious Auntie to keep this secret from her daughter? Why does Precious Auntie keep this infornlation from LuLing for so long?

10. What is the significance of Ruth's learning the family name at the end of The Bonesetter's Daughter? What does Ruth learn about her name that helps change her opinion of her mother?

11. How does LuLing rebel against Precious Auntie? Is Ruth similar to LuLing in this respect? What are the consequences of Ruth's insolence in her teenage years? Whose rebellion causes more lasting results?

12. What does Ruth learn about her mother and about her own cultural heritage that helps to mend her strained relationship with Art, as well as with Fia and Dory?

Amy Tan's Site - Legends & Myths

Amy Tan’s Blog

Questions provided by Susan Oringel and

This discussion guide made possible with public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts, a State Agency. Sponsored by the Mohawk Valley Library System and participating member libraries.

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