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Letters About Literature National Winners 2005

National Winner, Level 2: Amy Tai

Tulsa, Oklahoma

Dear Amy Tan,

Mothers have a natural instinct to protect their young and show them the ways of life, right? Mother bears teach their cubs how to catch salmon in a river. Panda mothers show their young how to eat bamboo leaves. Human mothers teach their children how to survive in the real world and be successful. But this takes time and constant reminders, starting with mothers gently showing the path, then nudging their young toward it. I never understood that until I read The Joy Luck Club.

Before I read your book, I was always fuming and wondering why my mother was so nagging, constantly picking at my faults. Afterwards, I understood that my mother was helping me because she wanted me to become an accomplished person, teaching me what my grandmother had taught her. My family is Chinese, and my mother knows from her mother how the bad times were in China. How, like in Lindo’s case, a mother must give up her most cherished object in order to give her daughter the best. How Suyuan had to leave her babies behind, leaving all she had beside a road.

It seems hard to imagine my mom as a child, but the members of the Joy Luck Club help me do so, portraying each mother when she was a child, repeating lessons taught from mother to daughter. I read these stories with an insatiable desire to learn more about the lives of the individuals of the club. I wished more stories would just appear, telling me more about the childhood of every member. I wanted more, not only to entertain but to explain, for these stories have taught me that a mother’s love for her daughter is beyond breaking. That every single movement towards her daughter is a mother’s way of expressing love, though it may be subtle or even harsh. A daughter’ trust towards her mother should be as strong as the mother’s love.

The Joy Luck Club has also made me realize that I take my life for granted, with clothes, fresh food, cars, and a roof over my head. Your description of China during the war has shown me that I should appreciate life more, because those people back then were starving to death. In order to preserve water, not to take long, I have learned not to take hot, leisurely showers. When I leave a room, I always turn off the light because I’m thinking that somewhere, someone doesn’t have the gifts I have. These thoughts aren’t petty presents given to a spoiled little girl. They are gifts that carry a privilege.

I hope that the intention of your novel was to expose the inner bonds between mothers and daughters while at the same time showing people what war and poverty brings. If it was, you have done your job well and produced a book that, in my heart, will never be forgotten.

Yours truly,

Amy Tai