Lose your innocence but not your hope
“Even if I could live forever,” she said to the baby, “I still don’t know which way I would teach you. I was once so free and innocent. I too laughed for no reason.
“But later I threw away my foolish innocence to protect myself. And then I taught my daughter, your mother, to shed her innocence so she would not be hurt as well.
“Hwai dungsyi, was this kind of thinking wrong? If I now recognize evil in other people, is it not because I have become evil too? If I see someone has a suspicious nose, have I not smelled the same bad things?”
The baby laughed, listening to her grandmother’s laments.
“O! O! You say you are laughing because you have already lived forever, over and over again? You say you as Syi Wang Mu, Queen Mother of the Western Skies, now come back to give me the answer! Good, good, I am listening…
“Thank you, Little Queen. Then you must teach my daughter the same lesson. How to lose your innocence but not your hope. How to laugh forever.”
Author Amy Tan was born on this day, February 19, in 1952. The Joy Luck Club was her first novel. Loosely based on her own life, Joy Luck Club is on its surface a series of sometimes intersecting stories told and retold by three generations of Chinese women. Differences of perspective between these Chinese and Chinese American women speak to the swiftness of historically significant change and the poignant blend of closeness and misunderstanding between mothers and daughters.
I read Joy Luck Club when it was new, 11 years ago. Until re-reading for this post, I’d forgotten the book but remembered the feeling – the author’s written voice.
Though I have no experience with being between cultures as the child of immigrants, while reading Joy Luck Club I owned their experience as my own. By the end of the book I saw myself as a fourth generation of the book’s family, learning about “my” culture by reading Joy Luck Club. I didn’t question my feelings until closing the book and returning to my here and now. Is some of this an American thing – “We are the World” and all the world is (or should be) like us? Being American, I may not have the perspective to know for sure.
I chalk the lion’s share up to reading. I have not seen the movie version of Joy Luck Club. Everything I saw and felt happened in my imagination, anchored by Amy Tan’s frank tone and helped along by a few half-forgotten experiences from my half-forgotten youth.
Have you ever heard of the band Rock Bottom Remainders?
Amy Tan, Stephen King, Dave Barry and a posse of other authors have their own rock band. On the home page, Amy Tan is the hot chick in front, sporting a microphone and feather boa. As the site says, “By day, they’re authors. Really famous authors. But once a year they shed their pen-and-pencil clutching personas and become rock stars, complete with roadies, groupies and a wicked cool tour bus.”