It was an interesting choice. The book, which details the lives of four women born in China and their daughters who grow up in America, covers the travails the younger generation [me] face when the immigrant mothers [my mother] are too firmly rooted in Old World ideals and ideas. I thought it would be a chance to discuss with my mother the tensions that lay between us.
She called after she read it. She loved the book. It was, she told me, just like her relationship with her mother. Turns out, we both saw ourselves as the younger generation jousting against our parent's Old World disciplines to find our place in the new culture.
More recently, I read Please Look After Mom by Kyung-Sook Shin, a South Korean writer. [The book won the Man Asian Literary Prize in 2011].
In this book, all the children love the mother--mom--who goes missing. [Elderly and ill, she is parted from her husband by crowds at the Seoul subway station.] The book is partly about how we children take our mothers for granted, how we see them only as "mom", with no other life than that of being our mother. We hardly know our parents, Shin seems to be saying. And yet, the impact of Mom on her grown children is pervasive, powerful and dynamic. It seeps in everywhere--even though the Mom in Sook's book was an unassuming and uneducated woman.
In its way, it is the same struggle depicted by Amy Tan, although told in the voice of the grown children and with more of a guilt-trip edge to it. The children ask themselves, now that their mother is missing, why they took her for granted and why they treated her questions as intrusive inquiries into their lives rather than as her quest for knowledge. It certainly laid a guilt trip on me who kept my mother at bay with terse answers to her questions about my career and any parts of my life I feared sharing with her.
I think of both books now that the shoe is on the other foot--now that I am the mother with an older generation's ideas and the thirst to know more about my adult children's lives. Dare I share Please Look After Mom with them? Would we both see ourselves as the children fighting to set our mark and keeping our mothers at a distance so we can move forward unencumbered--and without their generation's disapproval? Maybe I should send them the pair of books. We could really get after that generational question.