Readers' Guide: The Bonesetter's Daughter by Amy Tan

The Bonesetter's Daughter

by: Amy Tan

Category: FICTION
Guide Created By: Lorrie
Discussion Leader: Lorrie
Read our archived discussion of this book

Guide Description

This is a story of the pain of broken dreams, the power of myths, and the strength of love that enables us to recover in memory what we have lost in grief.

Background Information

Set in contemporary San Francisco and in a Chinese village where Peking Man is unearthed, The Bonesetter's Daughter is an excavation of the human spirit: the past, its deepest wounds, its most profound hopes.

This is the story of LuLing Young, who searches for the name of her mother, the daughter of the famous Bonesetter from the Mouth of the Mountain.

The story conjures the pain of broken dreams, the power of myths, and the strength of love that enables us to recover in memory what we have lost in grief. Tan has a master's degree in linguistics from San Jose State University and worked as a language specialist to programs serving children with developmental disabilities. "Splendid" . . . New York Times Book Review

"A riveting, multi-layered tale" . . . Toronto Globe.


1. Why did Ruth's mother begin to write down her memories?

2. Are you able to keep track of the relationships in the novel?

3. Is the identity of the Bonesetter's Daughter clear?

4. Has the title of "Bonesetter" been explained in these first hundred pages? What have dragon bones to do with bonesetting?

5. Has the presence of so many unexplained and fantastic elements in the book (ghosts, superstitions, dragons) helped or hurt your understanding of what's happening in the plot?

6. Much of The Bonesetter's Daughter revolves around superstition. How does this aspect of Chinese culture affect LuLing's actions?

7. Is Ruth superstitious? Does she realize that she is manipulating her mother as a child?

8. What does "And had GaoLing known all along that the necklace was fake, that Ruth, the good daughter, was also a fake." (p. 105) mean?

9. The book examines some difficult issues between mothers and daughters: Why would Ruth consider herself a "fake?"

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

11.Memory plays an important role in The Bonesetter's Daughter. How is Ruth's life affected by her childhood memories? In particular, the episode with Lance and Dottie, their neighbors. What did you feel about that bizarre incident?

12. How do LuLing's memories affect her behavior around Ruth?

13. 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 information from LuLing for so long?

14. 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?

15. As an adult, Ruth's relationship with LuLing is tense. Ruth does not understand her mother, and they cannot find common ground. How does what Ruth discovers, after having it translated, affect her relationship with her mother now?

16. Known for her forays into the Chinese Mother-daughter relationship, Tan is sometimes ignored as a writer for what is considered to be repetitive subject matter, but in this novel do you see a different approach? As in The Joy Luck Club, for instance?

17. All writing has a certain element of autobiography, and this has been discussed in previous novels. But what, in the book, makes this point of special interest and significance? Hint: right from the start.

18. What is your impression of the relationship between Ruth and Art?What effect does Ruth's new knowledge of her mother have on that family?

19. What is it about Amy Tan's writing that makes her books page-turners? Does she use certain literary devices to pull people along?

20. 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?