Your Fiction Reading List: Dementia and Caregiving

I do a lot of reading in my free time, and when I have the choice, I pick novels. Not only do they take me into a new time and place for a while, but I also think that we can learn a lot by reading good fiction, spending time in someone else’s shoes.

Are you a reader, too? If so, you might enjoy two novels that share dementia and caregiving as common themes.

The Bonesetter’s Daughter by Amy Tan

Amy Tan often writes about mother-daughter relationships, particularly the unique relationships between Chinese immigrant mothers and their American-born daughters. You may have heard about The Joy Luck Club, Tan’s first bestseller that eventually became a film by the same name. In The Bonesetter’s Daughter, middle-aged daughter Ruth is navigating some new challenges in her relationship with her mother, LuLing, who is certainly in the early stages of dementia at the beginning of the novel, despite both women’s denial of this fact. LuLing gives Ruth some of her writings, which tell stories from their family history that Ruth had never known. The novel unfolds as Ruth reads more into LuLing’s past, even as the mother is losing her grip on the present. In addition to the wonderfully compelling story of LuLing’s life in China, this novel addresses several issues that will be familiar to those who have encountered dementia:

Caregiver denial. We see Ruth trying to blame her mother’s memory slips and strange behaviors on depression or a “mini-stroke.” She doesn’t want to face the possibility that her mother has Alzheimer’s Disease.

Money problems. As LuLing’s dementia becomes clear, Ruth worries about how to make sure her mom isn’t cheated out of money and, eventually, how to pay for her care.

Different cultural attitudes about medical treatment. LuLing and her sister are both less than eager about American-style diagnosis and treatment. In fact, early in the novel, Ruth tells her mother’s doctor, “you’ll have to tell her the antidepressants are ginseng or po chai pills.”

How to convince a loved one to move into assisted living. This happens later in the novel so I won’t give too much detail, but I can say the transition takes some clever manipulation. (Doesn’t it usually, though?)

So, this novel has a lot to say about dementia and caregiving, without being about those topics or purporting to be a self-help or reference book. I’ll stop here now so I can post this in time for you to go to the library this weekend, but you can watch for another post early next week on another book on the topic of dementia: Still Alice by Lisa Genova.

Have you read The Bonesetter’s Daughter? What did you think?

P.S. Visit to purchase this novel in paperback or Kindle format!


13 thoughts on “Your Fiction Reading List: Dementia and Caregiving

  1. Vicki says:

    Thank you, Rachelle for the suggestion. I am a caregiver and a music therapist, also looking for ways to help me through this journey. Thanks for the suggestion. I picked up the book at the library.

  2. Carolyn Stone says:

    Thanks, Rachelle. I have heard of the book, but I never knew what it was about. I’ll check it out. On a similar note, do you know “Still Alice” by Lisa Genova? Genova is a neuroscientist, and she writes very well about the experience of a Harvard professor and her family as she develops Alzheimer’s disease. Depicts family dynamics well.

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