Salon magazine has a good plot description and review of this book. I can't seem to marshal the energy to write my own summary, so if you need that, you can read it there. (But you've probably already read this book anyway, right?)
For some reason I stopped reading Amy Tan, after really enjoying her first few books. I think this one just sounded like more of the same, so I took a break. A really loooonnnngggg break, it turns out (10 years, I think). I thought this book might be good to listen to as an audiobook, but I was wrong. My criteria for what makes a good audiobook is kind of narrow and includes "nothing too stressful." For some reason hearing a disturbing passage read aloud really upsets me in a way that just reading the same passage does not. This book kind of chugs along innocuously for a while, then takes a more upsetting turn as Tan takes us back to China just before and during World War II and the Chinese Civil War. For a while I just stopped listening to it, then I thought "why not get the book, and READ it, instead of avoiding listening to it" as I had been doing.
Briefly, Tan has written two stories here: the story of Ruth and her mother, and their relationship in contemporary San Francisco, and the story of Ruth's mother and her life in China before she emigrated. The Chinese story is far more compelling than the contemporary one, which felt thrown together, like Tan just phoned it in. Ruth's mother LuLing suffers from Alzheimer's disease, and I felt that Tan's portrayal of this illness was over-simplified, overly rosy and with an especially unrealistic ending. Tan's writing (in the contemporary sections) was cliché-ridden and her characters formulaic. This is NOT true in the Chinese section; that story is interesting, original, and very well done.
(Book 24, 2007)