Ruth Young, protagonist of the new novel by Tan (The Joy Luck Club) has been losing her voice for a week or so every August for the past several years—a symptom, it turns out, of her faltering grasp on her identity. She is beginning to question the domestic life she shares in San Francisco with her longtime beau. Even more unsettling, her tough-minded, spirited mother, LuLing, has begun showing signs of Alzheimer's disease. But when Mom presents her with a cache of writings about her girlhood in China, Ruth finds the key to her family history and her sense of self.
Tan tells a mean story complete with matchmakers, an evil suitor, family secrets and ghosts, but filling the middle chunk of the book with LuLing's memoirs is a jarring device. And the ending wraps up more tidily than a Martha Stewart gift box—not a good thing. Still, Tan writes with a keen understanding of mothers and daughters that makes this book sing with emotion and insight. (Putnam, $25.95)
Bottom Line: Absorbing tale of the mother-daughter bond