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Delve into the stories from Amy Tan's life that inspired bestselling novels like The Joy Luck Club and The Valley of Amazement and the new memoir, Where the Past Begins Amy Tan has touched millions of readers with haunting and sympathetic novels of cultural complexity and profound empathy. With the same spirit and humor that characterize her acclaimed novels, she now shares Delve into the stories from Amy Tan's life that inspired bestselling novels like The Joy Luck Club and The Valley of Amazement and the new memoir, Where the Past Begins Amy Tan has touched millions of readers with haunting and sympathetic novels of cultural complexity and profound empathy. With the same spirit and humor that characterize her acclaimed novels, she now shares her insight into her own life and how she escaped the curses of her past to make a future of her own. She takes us on a journey from her childhood of tragedy and comedy to the present day and her arrival as one of the world's best-loved novelists. Whether recalling arguments with her mother in suburban California or introducing us to the ghosts that inhabit her computer, The Opposite of Fate offers vivid portraits of choices, attitudes, charms, and luck in action--a refreshing antidote to the world-weariness and uncertainties we all face today.


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Delve into the stories from Amy Tan's life that inspired bestselling novels like The Joy Luck Club and The Valley of Amazement and the new memoir, Where the Past Begins Amy Tan has touched millions of readers with haunting and sympathetic novels of cultural complexity and profound empathy. With the same spirit and humor that characterize her acclaimed novels, she now shares Delve into the stories from Amy Tan's life that inspired bestselling novels like The Joy Luck Club and The Valley of Amazement and the new memoir, Where the Past Begins Amy Tan has touched millions of readers with haunting and sympathetic novels of cultural complexity and profound empathy. With the same spirit and humor that characterize her acclaimed novels, she now shares her insight into her own life and how she escaped the curses of her past to make a future of her own. She takes us on a journey from her childhood of tragedy and comedy to the present day and her arrival as one of the world's best-loved novelists. Whether recalling arguments with her mother in suburban California or introducing us to the ghosts that inhabit her computer, The Opposite of Fate offers vivid portraits of choices, attitudes, charms, and luck in action--a refreshing antidote to the world-weariness and uncertainties we all face today.

30 review for The Opposite of Fate: Memories of a Writing Life

  1. 5 out of 5

    Jeana

    Reading this book is like sitting down to lunch with someone you hardly know and making a new friend. I happen to love Amy Tan's novels. I also like to read about writers and how they got their breaks. This memior/musings/essay book held a lot of the magic that is found in Joy Luck Club/Kitchen God's Wife with a lot of reality and the daily suffering of a writer. I particularly enjoyed reading about Tan's mother (but of course it's the crazy/hard-lifed mothers that make Joy Luck and Kitchen God's Reading this book is like sitting down to lunch with someone you hardly know and making a new friend. I happen to love Amy Tan's novels. I also like to read about writers and how they got their breaks. This memior/musings/essay book held a lot of the magic that is found in Joy Luck Club/Kitchen God's Wife with a lot of reality and the daily suffering of a writer. I particularly enjoyed reading about Tan's mother (but of course it's the crazy/hard-lifed mothers that make Joy Luck and Kitchen God's Wife so good) and about her path to making it as a writer. I also liked reading about how her mother made her sit down at the piano and practice for an hour every day even when she'd much rather be outside playing. I even liked reading about her thoughts on lanuage and how they formed who she is today, as a writer and generally as a person. There's a reason why people love Amy Tan--it's because she has the writing style to make you feel like she IS your best friend and that she's telling her stories to you, making you HER friend.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Clark Carlton

    Amy Tan is one of the finest American writers we have. I am making it a point not to call her one of our finest women writers or Chinese-American writers or a writer of color, an issue which is explored in this memoir. This book may be a special taste -- you might need to be someone who loves her work and is interested in writing to fully appreciate it. Amy tells her stories with certainty and elegance and never overstates anything. I listened to this book which was all the better for having the Amy Tan is one of the finest American writers we have. I am making it a point not to call her one of our finest women writers or Chinese-American writers or a writer of color, an issue which is explored in this memoir. This book may be a special taste -- you might need to be someone who loves her work and is interested in writing to fully appreciate it. Amy tells her stories with certainty and elegance and never overstates anything. I listened to this book which was all the better for having the author as the narrator as she imbues her prose with subtle inflections, careful pauses, rises and falls of volume. One particular instance comes to mind when she very carefully uses the word "racist". She also changes her voice when she reads words that came from her mother, an effect both humorous and touching. It was fascinating to learn what the true stories are that inspired her fiction as well as her surprisingly pleasant experience in Hollywood while making the film version of the Joy Luck Club. What a pleasure to read prose with such a refreshing perspective. To paraphrase Amy, she works so hard at making her work easy to read -- and listen to.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Eileen

    I highly recommend this book to all writers as well as those interested in the “evolution” of a writer. I truly enjoyed Amy Tan’s honest and insightful account of her “journey,” told through a series of essays and autobiographical sketches. I especially appreciated Tan’s essay, “Required Reading and Other Dangerous Subjects,” in which she rejects the widespread belief that writers come in colors – and those colors do not mix and match. It is a biting critique of those who would dictate who is qu I highly recommend this book to all writers as well as those interested in the “evolution” of a writer. I truly enjoyed Amy Tan’s honest and insightful account of her “journey,” told through a series of essays and autobiographical sketches. I especially appreciated Tan’s essay, “Required Reading and Other Dangerous Subjects,” in which she rejects the widespread belief that writers come in colors – and those colors do not mix and match. It is a biting critique of those who would dictate who is qualified to write about various cultures and peoples and how they should do so. Bravo Ms. Tam for refusing to play the label game.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Lisa

    I really enjoyed this book. It was so different from the books I normally read. Amy Tan has led an interesting life! It was a little slow 3/4 of the way through, but I enjoyed reading about her life and relationship with her mother. Seeking the "American Dream" and the chinese culture of honoring and obeying your parents are so polar opposite. It's understandable that first generation kids grow up very confused. I really enjoyed this book. It was so different from the books I normally read. Amy Tan has led an interesting life! It was a little slow 3/4 of the way through, but I enjoyed reading about her life and relationship with her mother. Seeking the "American Dream" and the chinese culture of honoring and obeying your parents are so polar opposite. It's understandable that first generation kids grow up very confused.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Barbara H

    Delightful! **** I discovered this book at one of my library's Friends of the Library booksales. Without hesitation, I paid the minimal amount to purchase a book written by one of my favorite authors, Amy Tan. It is difficult to classify the genre of her writings here, but the sub-title of A Book of Musings captures it well. Her spirit and humor that characterize her engaging novels, are observed in her tales of her life and how she escaped the encumbrances of her past to develop a future of her Delightful! **** I discovered this book at one of my library's Friends of the Library booksales. Without hesitation, I paid the minimal amount to purchase a book written by one of my favorite authors, Amy Tan. It is difficult to classify the genre of her writings here, but the sub-title of A Book of Musings captures it well. Her spirit and humor that characterize her engaging novels, are observed in her tales of her life and how she escaped the encumbrances of her past to develop a future of her own. Her journey from her childhood unexpected disasters to comedy, to the present day and her unexpected success as a prize-winning novelist are related as entertainingly as her novels. Much of this book is given to random thoughts with arbitrary places of circumstance, yet it all fits well to convey to the reader the influences in her life which led to her successful novels.Recalling arguments with her mother in suburban California, living with ancient Asian superstitions, hearing the acceptance of fate and travels to China, all contributed to the familiar subjects she wrote about. The Opposite of Fate  offers vivid portraits of choices, attitudes, charms, and luck in action in this book. I was pleased to have discovered this collection of stories, which somehow has remained partially dormant since 2003.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Stephen Gallup

    Despite the subtitle, I bought this book expecting it to be more of a memoir than it actually is. I think Amy Tan's main purpose in writing it was to set the record straight on a variety of topics, beginning with an inaccurate summary of her life that turned up in an edition of CliffsNotes. She does so in essays that directly address the points that need to be made, and also tosses in other writings that range from a college commencement address to an item she wrote for the newspaper when eight Despite the subtitle, I bought this book expecting it to be more of a memoir than it actually is. I think Amy Tan's main purpose in writing it was to set the record straight on a variety of topics, beginning with an inaccurate summary of her life that turned up in an edition of CliffsNotes. She does so in essays that directly address the points that need to be made, and also tosses in other writings that range from a college commencement address to an item she wrote for the newspaper when eight years old. As such, it's somewhat disjointed and uneven. Some parts appealed to me much more than others. Early on, she provides some personal and family history, which includes plenty of elements readers will recognize from her fiction (a character who goes one day each year without speaking, for example, and most certainly the memorable voice of her mother). This is followed by a section in which she argues that readers ought not assume that her stories are autobiographical. (Maybe they aren't, but reading between the lines in yet another section one can conclude that she sees a self-portrait in The Kitchen God's Wife.) There's also an eloquent rebuttal to the people in publishing and educational circles who insist on pidgeon-holing her as a representative of her ethnic group, gender, color, etc. and looking to her for politically correct lessons. That kind of writing, she feels (and I agree) amounts to propaganda, not literature. She says, "I write stories about life as I have misunderstood it. To be sure, it's a Chinese-American life, but that's the only one I've had so far." There are points at which it seems the lady protests too much. She mentions a journalist friend who says, "Any attention is valuable ... If you receive any, you should be grateful." I rather agree with that as well, because Tan's path to literary success appears to have been unusually smooth. Better to be misunderstood by some harebrained people than completely ignored. This is not to suggest that she doesn't deserve success; she emphatically does. But she too acknowledges that she has been lucky. Her luck has not been only literary, since apparently she's had more than her share of close brushes with death. For me, the final section is devastating. It describes a mysterious illness that overtook her and the frustratingly slow process of getting a diagnosis. Because of the story described in my own book, I recognized her discovery that most doctors and even professional medical societies are clueless when presented with something out of the ordinary. I recognized the cynical but helpful voices she found on Internet discussion boards, and her conclusion that, rare or not, this thing afflicts a heck of a lot of other people. I found most of this book utterly fascinating. It sparked an interest in going back and rereading her novels. It reaffirmed an earlier impression that Amy Tan is someone I'd be glad to know (an impression that faded when I later visited her Facebook page). Most importantly, in discussing her life and what has been important to her, she shows how much of the joys and fears of this existence are common experiences.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Caitlin

    I write stories because I have questions about life, not answers. I believe life is mysterious and not dissectable . . . . I can't paraphrase or give succinct morals about love and hope, pain and loss. I have to use a mental longhand, ponder and work it out in the form of a story that is revised again and again, twenty times, a hundred times, until it feels true. I write for very much the same reasons that I read: to startle my mind, to church my heart, to tingle my spine, to knock the blinders I write stories because I have questions about life, not answers. I believe life is mysterious and not dissectable . . . . I can't paraphrase or give succinct morals about love and hope, pain and loss. I have to use a mental longhand, ponder and work it out in the form of a story that is revised again and again, twenty times, a hundred times, until it feels true. I write for very much the same reasons that I read: to startle my mind, to church my heart, to tingle my spine, to knock the blinders off my eyes and allow me to see beyond the pale. [322] The Opposite of Fate by Amy Tan has long been one of my favorite books, so it's about time I reviewed it. This "memoir" is a collection of essays, speeches, and articles written over the course of many years, categorized into themed sections. Collectively they explore Tan's Chinese heritage, her childhood as the daughter of immigrants, and her journey to becoming a well-known author of American fiction (Tan prefers not to be categorized as a Chinese-American or Asian-American author, which she discusses in the essay "Required Reading and Other Dangerous Subjects." I like her reasons.). The essays converge on motifs of fate, hope, coincidence, and the possibility of redeeming the past--common subjects in Tan's novels. It is difficult to choose favorite essays as I feel they function best as a unit, but I particularly love "The Cliffnotes Version of My Life," "My Grandmother's Choice," "Fish Cheeks" and "Arrival Banquet." Tan's tone is conversational and often humorous, but her essays delve deep into questions of identity and purpose. She says, The stories I write concern the various beliefs I have held and lost and found at various times in my life . . . I realize those beliefs most often have had to do with hope: hope and expectation, hope and disappointment, loss and hope, fate and hope, death and hope, luck and hope. They [spring] from the questions I had as a child: How did that happen? What's going to happen? How can I make things happen? [111] I think that is why I love this book so much; it is a candid, well-written, and insightful look at life from many perspectives. It inspires empathy and thoughtfulness when relating to other people. I do not necessarily "agree" with all of the views/beliefs in this book, but I think the best books help you step outside of yourself and see things through another's eyes. AND in case that sounds too philosophical, I'll add that this book is also incredibly entertaining and funny! :) Let me know if you read it.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Kandice

    I have read all of Tan's books, usually within days of release, and this was a great way to "get to know her better". You can guess at a lot of her personal life just by reading her books, with the exception of Saving Fish from Drowning: A Novel, but it was still interesting to see just what was real and what was fiction. There was a lot of repetetiveness, but that was to be expected. It says right on the description that these are mostly personal essays and speeches written over a period of year I have read all of Tan's books, usually within days of release, and this was a great way to "get to know her better". You can guess at a lot of her personal life just by reading her books, with the exception of Saving Fish from Drowning: A Novel, but it was still interesting to see just what was real and what was fiction. There was a lot of repetetiveness, but that was to be expected. It says right on the description that these are mostly personal essays and speeches written over a period of years. Things that are very important to you personally will keep coming up. Especially since those essays and speeches were originally meant as stand alones. It didn't bother me at all. Again, it just made it more clear which events had the biggest impact on Tan as a person, and in some cases, a writer. As much as I enjoyed each entry, with the exception of Required Reading and Other Dangerous Subjects which I found a little too "instructive", my favorite parts were her stories about the band she belongs to, The Rock Bottom Remainders. Stephen King is a member of that band and my favorite writer, so all the little things she said about him and his wife Tabby were like bonuses for me. I was thrilled to find those references where I had not expected them. The best entry, in my opinion, was The Opposite of Fate which chronicled her illness which went undiagnosed for years. She made it clear that doctors can make mistakes, and that we, as patients, have a responsibility and a right to do our own research. With the internet, information is available to us that our forefathers would have killed for. Actually, that some died without, to tell the truth. Had Tan not done her own research, after being told repeatedly, she had no known illness, she would not have been treated for a late stage case of Lyme disease that came very close to robbing us of her talent. I, for one, am very thankful for her stubborness and tenactiy. I would hate to lose her and can't wait to read whatever she writes next.

  9. 5 out of 5

    K

    This book was a pleasure to read. I don't know whether it could technically be called a memoir; it's basically a collection of mostly autobiographical essays and musings. Whatever its classification, these essays were well-written (no surprise there), interesting, provocative, and often funny. Amy Tan had just the right degree of self-deprecating humor so that she came across as refreshingly humble but not neurotic -- someone I would probably enjoy being friends with, as opposed to many other au This book was a pleasure to read. I don't know whether it could technically be called a memoir; it's basically a collection of mostly autobiographical essays and musings. Whatever its classification, these essays were well-written (no surprise there), interesting, provocative, and often funny. Amy Tan had just the right degree of self-deprecating humor so that she came across as refreshingly humble but not neurotic -- someone I would probably enjoy being friends with, as opposed to many other authors whose works I've enjoyed but with whom I'd probably not want to socialize (e.g., Dorothy Parker, Vladimir Nabokov, J. D. Salinger). I also liked the way she depicted her mother honestly in all her eccentric difficulty (undiagnosed borderline personality disorder, I strongly suspect), yet managed to show the affection she felt for her and the full range of their complex relationship. As hard as it must have been for her to grow up with a mother like that, Amy Tan didn't trash her, nor did she idealize her or misrepresent her behavior or their relationship. The tone of genuine affection and respect for her mother was maintained throughout, even as she described some clearly difficult encounters. There was some overlap in content among some of the essays (which had been written at different times and for different occasions), and a few of them interested me less or felt too long. Being a die-hard Amy Tan fan, I read them all and didn't mind this. My reason for not taking off one star is that I could just as easily have skipped or skimmed those few essays which had this flaw and still fully enjoyed the book.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Joshua Gross

    This book started out well, but after awhile it became a little tiresome. This seems to be an almost random collection of essays written by Amy Tan for various reasons that get less and less interesting as I progressed. Some of them were really interesting, and I learned all kinds of things about Ms. Tan, but some of them were kind of similar to ones I'd already read, or were just long and not that interesting. Some of them were very very funny, though, and more than one were especially insightf This book started out well, but after awhile it became a little tiresome. This seems to be an almost random collection of essays written by Amy Tan for various reasons that get less and less interesting as I progressed. Some of them were really interesting, and I learned all kinds of things about Ms. Tan, but some of them were kind of similar to ones I'd already read, or were just long and not that interesting. Some of them were very very funny, though, and more than one were especially insightful. It was interesting reading about her process for writing her early books. There's quite a lot about the Joy Luck Club and The Kitchen God's Wife, but there's also a nice ghostly essay on her process for writing The Hundred Secret Senses that I enjoyed. If the essays had been chosen a little more carefully and there had been less of them I probably would not have grown so bored by the end.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Sundurra

    I just read it because my mother recommended it to me. This book is clearly written for the author's fans. Since I had no idea who she was, I found it quite self exalting. The author describes her life and the events that inspired her novels, which were inspired by her mother and grandmother's struggles in China. A recurring topic throughout the book is the minority issues of being a chinese american and how she has been influenced by both cultures. Another important aspect of the book has to do w I just read it because my mother recommended it to me. This book is clearly written for the author's fans. Since I had no idea who she was, I found it quite self exalting. The author describes her life and the events that inspired her novels, which were inspired by her mother and grandmother's struggles in China. A recurring topic throughout the book is the minority issues of being a chinese american and how she has been influenced by both cultures. Another important aspect of the book has to do with spirits and life after death. Frankly, most of the book was quite boring and uninteresting for me.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Amanda

    I loved 'The Joy Luck Club' and 'The Kitchen God's Wife', so it was fascinating to read this collection of pieces which give a perspective to Amy Tan, the writer. Because it is a collection of essays, speeches and musings, it can be a little repetitive, but it is nonetheless an interesting read. She touches on her cultural background and the events in her life that make her the person she is. She also takes on the labelling of people by their perceived gender or cultural background, and also how I loved 'The Joy Luck Club' and 'The Kitchen God's Wife', so it was fascinating to read this collection of pieces which give a perspective to Amy Tan, the writer. Because it is a collection of essays, speeches and musings, it can be a little repetitive, but it is nonetheless an interesting read. She touches on her cultural background and the events in her life that make her the person she is. She also takes on the labelling of people by their perceived gender or cultural background, and also how misinformation is so easily disseminated and quoted as fact in this digital age.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Isabella

    This book was extraordinary. I originally stated this novel as part of a reading project where I was required to read a memoir, and after searching through my bookshelf, happened upon this very book. Tan provides insights on many different subjects she holds dear in her life, including the relationship she had with her mother and how much she cherishes the golden moments. Definitely a must read for any writer. Now I have to read her other works!

  14. 5 out of 5

    Julie Wienke

    If you've ever read an Amy Tan book, this offers delightful insight on how she creates her characters, taking from a colorful, offtimes humorous, band of family members. It also offers a behind-the-scenes look at what writers experience in order to provide their readers with works worth investing the time to read. If you've ever read an Amy Tan book, this offers delightful insight on how she creates her characters, taking from a colorful, offtimes humorous, band of family members. It also offers a behind-the-scenes look at what writers experience in order to provide their readers with works worth investing the time to read.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Marnie

    I have read a few of Amy Tan books, and I enjoy them immensely. I found this biography book by her, funny at times and enjoyable to read. Interesting to learn a bit how she comes up with the novels that she writes. And I certainly hope that she continues.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Sheila

    Good book – she writes a self-deprecating memoir. Her family history was very interesting.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Annie Su

    This book is an amalgamation of various nonfiction short stories, speeches, emails, letters, and bits of writing centered on Amy Tan's life. I like that she closed a commencement address with "I wish you interesting lives." I feel down a rabbit hole reading about the very niche particulars of her upbringing, the depressive and suicidal tendencies of her mother, the tragedies of her adolescence, the strange auspiciousness and superstition that she believes in--all of it traces and fills an outline This book is an amalgamation of various nonfiction short stories, speeches, emails, letters, and bits of writing centered on Amy Tan's life. I like that she closed a commencement address with "I wish you interesting lives." I feel down a rabbit hole reading about the very niche particulars of her upbringing, the depressive and suicidal tendencies of her mother, the tragedies of her adolescence, the strange auspiciousness and superstition that she believes in--all of it traces and fills an outline of who Amy Tan is. I like her honesty and candidness, her worldview, and her ability to weave stories and floating thoughts. -- for future (personal) reference. may contain spoilers ? -- "The stories we love to read may very well have to do with our emotional obsessions, the circuitry between our brain and our heart, the questions we thought about as children, that we still think about, whether they are about the endurance of love, the fears that unite us, the acceptance of irreversible decay, or the ties that bind that turn out to be illusory." "By continuing to read and write, though, I gradually changed. But it was not through deconstruction. It was through an awareness that each writer has a distinct consciousness, attentiveness, inventiveness, and relationship to the world, both real and fictional. I discovered that the short story is a distillation of all that." "By the end of the story, what I've witnessed and experienced as reader is so interesting, so intense, so transcendent that if someone were to ask me what the story was about, I would not be able to distill it into an easy answer. It would be a sacrilege for me to say what it is about, say, survival or hope or the endlessness of love. For the whole story is what the story is about, and there is no shorthanding it. I can only say please read it yourself. If this collection holds a common thread with regard to my tastes, it is what I think the best is by its nature and its virtues. It can enlarge us by helping us notice small details in life. It can remind us to distrust absolute truths, to dismiss cliches, to both desire and fear stillness, to see the world freshly from closer up or farther away, with a sense of mystery or acceptance, discontent or hope, all the while remembering that there are so many possibilities, and that this was only one. The best stories do change us. They help us live interesting lives."

  18. 4 out of 5

    Karen Floyd

    This is a wonderful collection of essays, and other non-fiction writings, from novelist Amy Tan. She talks about her life, her mother and father, and her family history, and reveals how the things that happened to her and to her family have impacted her novels. She tells us about her writing process and how she came to write her first few novels. "The Joy Luck Club" started life as a collection of short stories, since Tan began her writing life as a short story writer. One essay talks about the This is a wonderful collection of essays, and other non-fiction writings, from novelist Amy Tan. She talks about her life, her mother and father, and her family history, and reveals how the things that happened to her and to her family have impacted her novels. She tells us about her writing process and how she came to write her first few novels. "The Joy Luck Club" started life as a collection of short stories, since Tan began her writing life as a short story writer. One essay talks about the process of making that book into a film. (I'm going to have to find and watch that now, though I think I'll re-read the book first. It's been a while.) She reminisces, wonders, questions, unafraid to talk about difficult things. Though she sometimes considers herself "cranky," her wry, sometimes deadpan, humor shines through. This book was originally published in 2003, and has recently been re-released, so it doesn't cover her more recent work or life.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Cynthia Sillitoe

    This collection of essays is solid and intriguing.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Nadene LeCheminant

    I hate to only give four stars to ANYTHING Amy Tan writes, but I believe she could have avoided some redundancy in the essays. Otherwise, she is brilliant.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Jeanie McCoy

    I really enjoyed this book on how she got started writing and what inspired her. It was entertaining as well as enlightening to read.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Donna Davis

    Though bookstores and book clubs bill this as a memoir, it is really a collection of essays and speeches originally published for other purposes. Though I would love to read an actual autobiography written by Tan, this is an excellent anthology, and I cannot deny it the five stars it deserves. Tan writes about a wide range of experiences, from contracting Lyme disease to writing the screen play of The Joy Luck Club for Disney. It was nice to see somebody say something positive about Disney for on Though bookstores and book clubs bill this as a memoir, it is really a collection of essays and speeches originally published for other purposes. Though I would love to read an actual autobiography written by Tan, this is an excellent anthology, and I cannot deny it the five stars it deserves. Tan writes about a wide range of experiences, from contracting Lyme disease to writing the screen play of The Joy Luck Club for Disney. It was nice to see somebody say something positive about Disney for once. But if there is one really urgent entreaty nestled amongst the wide variety of topics addressed here, it is this: Tan would like to be released from her pigeon hole. Though the large number of her books sold is both profitable and gratifying, she feels both awkward and a trifle outraged as well at having been labeled by the press, by school districts who require that her stories be read, and by any number of other sources as an Asian-American writer, or a writer of color. What, she asks, is required just to be called an American writer? She was born in the USA. It’s accurate to say that she has written a lot of stories, both fictional and true, about her mother, who was born in China. But Tan takes exception to being held up as the one person who is supposed to represent all Asian-American writers. One might imagine other Asian American writers would take even greater exception, if they could be heard. I confess that I am at least partially among the guilty, having created an Asian studies label on my own bookshelves. Actually, since I am married to a Japanese citizen, the titles written by and about Asian Americans are crowded by vastly more titles written in Japanese, which take a number of bookcases all by themselves. This is not something that happens in most American homes. But yes, I have also regarded Tan as an Asian-American writer, and she is right in saying that regardless of pigmentation or ethnic background, her prose has won her a place on our shelves. Marketing be damned. I reflected a bit here. My youngest daughter is half Japanese, half Caucasian. We named her for her Japanese grandmother, and we started attempting to teach her Japanese when she was quite young. She has been to Japan and met relatives there. Yet she would rather be regarded as an American rather than an Asian-American. She pointed out to me that my own side of her counts too; does anyone call her an Irish-American because one parent is of Irish descent? The score stands at parents 0, offspring 1. But Tan also reminds us that our lives are not about what has happened to us—and she certainly does a fine job of recounting her own varied, sometimes bizarre experiences—but about whether we take charge of them. In the final essay, “The Opposite of Fate”, she contracts Lime disease and it continues to ravage her health and interfere with her writing until she does a comprehensive web-crawl and diagnoses it herself. Leaving the mystery for physicians to unravel hasn’t helped, and so she does what needs doing. That having been done, the official, medical diagnosis and treatment are fairly straight-forward. The cure isn’t easy or quick, but progress is made steadily. She took ownership of her problem, advocated for herself, and received treatment. Though the message inherent in the title seems obvious, I find it powerful. Most of us know someone—perhaps even in the family—who seems to ride through life helpless and riddled with excuses for everything. There is nothing for these folks that can’t wait another day, and sometimes another and yet another. They don’t “do” things; things “happen”. I confess it makes me crazy. Thus I found Tan’s essays keenly satisfying. She tells hilarious stories sometimes, while others are poignant, but all of them involve decisions at some level, though not always up front and pointed. She doesn’t preach, but she also doesn’t duck and cover. When life presents challenges, she rises to meet them. One could, of course, say that in publishing these stories, she has created a powerful example for Asian-American girls. But one really shouldn’t. Because the fact is, she has presented a strong, positive example for everybody.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Rena Sherwood

    Sadly, novelists cannot live by writing novels alone. They often have to write whatever articles, speeches or whatever else they can in order to pay the bills. Fortunately, Amy Tan is just as good at non-fiction as she is at fiction. Here's a collection of previously published and new material. We get a look at her life with a weird family, the murder of a good friend, her skiiing misadventures and her time as a Rock Bottom Remainder. Just how good is this book? While reading it, I suffered a bou Sadly, novelists cannot live by writing novels alone. They often have to write whatever articles, speeches or whatever else they can in order to pay the bills. Fortunately, Amy Tan is just as good at non-fiction as she is at fiction. Here's a collection of previously published and new material. We get a look at her life with a weird family, the murder of a good friend, her skiiing misadventures and her time as a Rock Bottom Remainder. Just how good is this book? While reading it, I suffered a bout of food posioning (not the fault of the book -- I hope.) A couple of days later, I was able to read. This book helped me through the misery of recovery and got me to forget my problems a while.

  24. 4 out of 5

    April

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. I enjoyed getting an inside look into Amy Tan's books, her writing process, and her personal life. I had no idea her personal life was so eclectic and non-traditional, compared with other Chinese Americans in her generation. Or maybe I'm just basing that off my parents' generation, in which she belongs, although most of the Chinese Americans that I'm thinking about in my parents' generation were born in SF and grew up in SF Chinatown and mostly stayed there during their childhood. Amy's family s I enjoyed getting an inside look into Amy Tan's books, her writing process, and her personal life. I had no idea her personal life was so eclectic and non-traditional, compared with other Chinese Americans in her generation. Or maybe I'm just basing that off my parents' generation, in which she belongs, although most of the Chinese Americans that I'm thinking about in my parents' generation were born in SF and grew up in SF Chinatown and mostly stayed there during their childhood. Amy's family seemed to move around a lot in California and even as far away as Switzerland. And the experiences she's had are dramatic and definitely out of the ordinary. New vocab words: - concatenation (noun): a series of interconnected things or events; the action of linking things together in a series. - phatic (adjective): denoting or relating to language used for general purposes of social interaction, rather than to convey information or ask questions. Utterances such as hello, how are you? and nice morning, isn't it? are phatic. - peccadillo (noun): a small, relatively unimportant offense or sin. “How is it that I am so lucky to be a writer? Is it fate? Is it a miracle? Was it by choice? Is it only my imagination? Yes, yes, yes, yes. It is all those things. All things are possible.” pg. 38 “I kept a journal of what she took and why, what her symptoms were and how she was changing as she lost bits and pieces and chunks. I often wrote that my mother seemed happier than she had ever been. I marveled over that. Was happiness in dementia true happiness?” pg. 90 “This is not to say I’ve been writing autobiographically, at least not in the sense that most people assume. If I write about a little girl who lives in Chinatown and plays chess, this does not mean that I did those same things. But within that story is an emotional truth It has to do with a mother who has helped her daughter see the world in a special way. It is a world in which the mother possesses rare magic. She can make the girl see yin when it is yang. The girl sees that her mother, who is her ally, is also her adversary. And that is an emotional memory that I do have, this sense of double jeopardy, realizing that my mother could both help me and hurt me, in the best and worst ways possible. So what I draw from is not a photographic memory, but an emotional one.” pg. 109 “The stories I write concern the various beliefs I have held and lost and found at various times of my life. And having now written several books, I realize those beliefs most often have had to do with hope: hope and expectation, hope and disappointment, loss and hope, fate and hope, death and hope, luck and hope. They sprang from the questions I had as a child: How did that happen? What’s going to happen? How do I make things happen?” pg. 111 “I am led to a stool next to the table. A tumbler of tea is pressed into my hand. Excited voices buzz in my ear and I can’t understand a word. I nod and smile frequently. This is what it will be like when I grow senile.” pg. 161 “That’s what I felt I had become living in the city—a cynic, the human extension to a telephone that was always on hold, eager to push life away from me rather than embrace it. That’s why I needed to be in Tahoe. I wanted to feel grateful again to be part of the world. Gratitude led to a generosity of spirit, and that was what my soul required so I could write.” pg. 241 “But there is another muse, one I find difficult to talk about. I cannot say who or what it is, although I can tell you what this muse feels like. This muse appears at that point in my writing when I sense a subtle shift, a nudge to move over, and everything cracks open, the writing is freed, the language is full, resources are plentiful, ideas pour forth, and, to be frank, some of these ideas surprise me. It seems as though the universe is my friend and is helping me write, its hand over mine.” pg. 250 “For me, that spiritual-mental high would be sufficient reason for writing. And while I have experienced it with each book I’ve written, I have never been able to decipher its pattern so that I might repeat it as often as I would like. Whatever it is, I am grateful when it happens, fearful that it may not happen again.” pg. 251 “As with the Holocaust reference, these coincidences were occurring at first once a day, then several times. The coincidences were oddly exact. How could I not notice them? It was as if in writing fiction I had opened my mind to the realm of all possibilities. Now the collective unconscious had yielded research, contacts, connections, images, and meanings. I was aware that other writers—James Merrill and Willam Butler Yeats of note—believed that their writings were influenced by sources that were ethereal, mystical, and spiritual in the sense that spirits were involved. Yeats believed the spirits delivered boatloads of images from the other side of the River Styx. Then again, perhaps I noticed these ‘coincidences’ because that is the obsessive nature of writing. It creates the boundaries, aligns the details into a story, a framework that guarantees that all the pieces are related to a whole. I reasoned that story-writing was a deliberate derangement of the mind. The story becomes a distorted lens, an impossibly wide perspective. And what appear to be coincidences are simply flotsam in the same stream of consciousness. This was the writerly logic I used to dismiss what was too strange to be believed as anything but the result of a skewed focus on coincidences.” pg. 262-263 “The truth is, I write for more self-serving reasons—that is, I write for myself. I write because I enjoy stories and make-believe. I write because if I didn’t, I’d probably go crazy. Thus I write about questions that disturb me, images that mystify me, or memories that cause me anguish and pain. I write about secrets, lies, and contradictions, because within them are may kinds of truth. In other words, I write stories about life as I have misunderstood it. To be sure, it’s a Chinese-American life, but that’s the only one I’ve had so far.” pg. 304-305 “If I had to give myself any sort of label, I would have to say I am an American writer. I am Chinese by racial heritage. I am Chinese-American by family and social upbringing. But I believe that what I write is American fiction by virtue of the fact that I live in this country and my emotional sensibilities, assumptions, and obsessions are largely American. My characters may be largely Chinese-American, but I think Chinese-Americans are part of America.” pg. 310 “Like many children, I read to be scared witless, to be less lonely, to believe in other possibilities. But we all become different readers in how we respond to books, why we need them, what we take from them. We become different in the questions that arise as we read, in the answers that we find, in the degree of satisfaction or unease we feel with those answers. We differ in what we consider about the real world and the imaginary one. We differ in what we think we can know—or would want to know—and how we continue to pursue that knowledge. In the hands of a different reader, the same story can be a different story.” pg. 342 “I also found that reading short stories helped my writing. It sprang me out of the doldrums, and I regained the fervor and compulsion toward writing that I had when I started reading massive amounts of fiction back in 1985. By reading so many stories, so many voices, I unleashed what had propelled me to write fiction in the first place: the need to find my own voice and tell my own story. As with conversation, one story begets another.” pg. 350 “Whether seemingly simple or fancy, the prose I like is such that everything is there for a reason—every word, every image, every bit of dialogue is needed; it adds, builds, and its dexterity is also transparent. And yet it has a generosity, there’s no skimpiness. That’s the craft part for me. While the prose may seem offhand and effortless, it is imbued with a particular sensibility and intelligence and purpose. That higher sense permeates the story, and only when you leave the story do you realize how palpable it still is. The stories here [The Best American Short Stories 1999] gave me that sensation, each in its own way.” pg. 353 Book: borrowed from Mom.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Susan

    Really enjoyed this collection of essays, some of which overlap, covering many topics; relationships, forgiveness,fun, fear, fate and faith, ghosts, writing and reading. Some of my favorite bits: "What had started as subterfuge on my part grew into an epiphany. I began to so see how much I actually knew about my mother and myself. She was losing her mind, yes, but I was losing defenses built up and fortified from childhood. . . . It had been so simple to make my mother happy. All I had to do was Really enjoyed this collection of essays, some of which overlap, covering many topics; relationships, forgiveness,fun, fear, fate and faith, ghosts, writing and reading. Some of my favorite bits: "What had started as subterfuge on my part grew into an epiphany. I began to so see how much I actually knew about my mother and myself. She was losing her mind, yes, but I was losing defenses built up and fortified from childhood. . . . It had been so simple to make my mother happy. All I had to do was say I appreciated her as my mother." "I did terrible things...but now I can't remember...I just want to tell you...I hope you can forget, just as I've forgotten. .... My mother died six months later. By then she had bequeathed to me her most healing words, as open and eternal as a clear blue sky. Together we knew in our hearts what we should remember, what we can forget." She talks about writing as being an act of faith and how she discovers much about her thoughts and feelings as she writes. This is how writing works for me, I often don't know how I really feel about something until I write about it, it is a discovery process. Probably my favorite thing from the book is this bit about reading, because ever since first grade in Mrs. Williams class, reading is and always will be magic to me. "I also think of reading as an act of faith, a hope I will discover something remarkable about ordinary life, about myself. And if the writer and the reader discover the same thing, if they have that connection, the act of faith has resulted in an act of magic."

  26. 4 out of 5

    Janet

    What had started as subterfuge on my part grew into an epiphany. I began to so see how much I actually knew about my mother and myself. She was losing her mind, yes, but I was losing defenses built up and fortified from childhood. . . . It had been so simple to make my mother happy. All I had to do was say I appreciated her as my mother. - Amy Tan, from The Opposite of Fate Several years ago, when I read Joy Luck Club, I began to understand my own mother a little bit better and discovered how lon What had started as subterfuge on my part grew into an epiphany. I began to so see how much I actually knew about my mother and myself. She was losing her mind, yes, but I was losing defenses built up and fortified from childhood. . . . It had been so simple to make my mother happy. All I had to do was say I appreciated her as my mother. - Amy Tan, from The Opposite of Fate Several years ago, when I read Joy Luck Club, I began to understand my own mother a little bit better and discovered how long-held secrets and suppressed memories shaped her and affected our relationships with her. So this book of Amy Tan's own memories even further illuminates what I already felt with her first novel -- I'm not alone in how I grew up. Amy speaks of her maternal grandmother, who died when her mother was just nine years old, as an ever-present ghost who serves as a muse of sorts. And I totally get it. I do believe that a strength of personality can survive death and distance and become a motivating force in one's life. Obviously, this is but a small part of this book of memories, but it's the part that informs her writing the most. I thoroughly enjoyed this book.

  27. 4 out of 5

    JudyAnn

    The Opposite of Fate: Memories of a Writing Life by Amy Tan is a non-fiction biography that shows how her life and writing shaped eachother. She gives details on her mother's life in China, her parent's relationship, the death of her brother and father, living in Switzerland as a teen, her first boyfriend, the murder of her best friend, being in a rock-and-roll band with other authors, 9/11, and getting Lyme disease. One story is finding herself as a topic in the Cliff Notes section of a bookstor The Opposite of Fate: Memories of a Writing Life by Amy Tan is a non-fiction biography that shows how her life and writing shaped eachother. She gives details on her mother's life in China, her parent's relationship, the death of her brother and father, living in Switzerland as a teen, her first boyfriend, the murder of her best friend, being in a rock-and-roll band with other authors, 9/11, and getting Lyme disease. One story is finding herself as a topic in the Cliff Notes section of a bookstore. Reading the notes, she was surprised by what her stories were supposed to mean, what the themes were, what she supposedly said about the Chinese-American experience. The Cliff Notes seemed to be describing someone else. Similarly when Tan googles herself and finds all sorts of wild stories that were not true. The Opposite of Fate was a way to put out real information about her life. How does one remember what happened in order to write about it? "Writing from memory is more about remembering my psychological place in the world at different stages of my life...my memory, then is entirely subjective. And that, I think is the kind of memory that is simultaneously the most unreliable and the most authentic element a writer can infuse into her work." Tan's fiction is very easy to read and I was pleased to find that she spoke in the same voice for her non-fiction work. One of Tan's chapters is "Fate and Faith" with the indication that faith is the opposite of fate. Faith didn't sit well with me. Is it Luck? Choice? Free Will?

  28. 4 out of 5

    Eva

    After reading her memoir and finding out that so much in her books was based on her life, I empathized with Tan even more. I especially loved the stories about her mother's dementia, as it shows the true connection between mother and daughter. The answer to "When will you be home?" is not a specific time and date, but "We're almost home, because we love you so so much and can't wait to see you." Parts of the memoir were funny, parts were truly sad, but I also empathized with Tan's childhood (alt After reading her memoir and finding out that so much in her books was based on her life, I empathized with Tan even more. I especially loved the stories about her mother's dementia, as it shows the true connection between mother and daughter. The answer to "When will you be home?" is not a specific time and date, but "We're almost home, because we love you so so much and can't wait to see you." Parts of the memoir were funny, parts were truly sad, but I also empathized with Tan's childhood (although maybe not the Swiss boyfriend and travelling across Europe). I love the story where Tan was 14 and crushing on the minister's son, whose family her dad invited over to dinner. Not only did Tan's mother serve the most Asian, weird-looking foods, but her family also belched loudly and said that this was the Chinese custom to show that you are satisfied. Only later did Tan learn the moral behind the dinner: her mother had prepared all her favorite foods. Amy Tan was a dreamer, just like me. When she was in middle/high school, she would always be the one standing awkwardly on the sidelines who never got asked to dance, dreaming of being called on stage by the lead singer and being a STAR. Being chosen, and not neglected. Glamorous and not ungainly. Exotic. And then in 1993, when she joined a rockand roll band with some other authors like Barbara Kingsolver and Stephen King, she got to be a real rockstar. Gives me hope.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Christina DiMinni

    I would use Amy Tan's famous essay, "Fish Cheeks," from this book. I would have students read this essay prior to reading The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian because of the similar themes they have of the importance of family, where you come from, and cultural differences. Since "Fish Cheeks" is quite short, yet still very invoking, it would be a great introduction of Sherman Alexie's novel since it will get students thinking about these big, and often times difficult, ideas of how o I would use Amy Tan's famous essay, "Fish Cheeks," from this book. I would have students read this essay prior to reading The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian because of the similar themes they have of the importance of family, where you come from, and cultural differences. Since "Fish Cheeks" is quite short, yet still very invoking, it would be a great introduction of Sherman Alexie's novel since it will get students thinking about these big, and often times difficult, ideas of how one's cultural/family background can greatly influence one's identity. Students will see similarities between the characters of Amy in "Fish Cheeks" and Junior in "The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian" as they define themselves as both American and their family's culture; for Amy, this is their Chinese culture and for Junior, this is their Native American culture living on a reservation. A great follow-up to reading both of these texts would be the Comparing ABC's activity, where students would write in two different colors to compare and contrast the cultural challenges Amy and Junior faced.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Nicole

    This is less a memoir and more an exploration by Tan of her own (and others') writing. She discusses her reasons for writing and her inspirations. I now have three new books (Lolita, Jane Eyre, and Love Medicine) on the stack thanks to Tan's chapter, "My Love Affair with Vladimir Nabokov," on her favorite reads. Tan also examines one of the main themes that put her on the literary map: The relationship between mother and daughter. To some, this might get tiresome or even trivial. However, I foun This is less a memoir and more an exploration by Tan of her own (and others') writing. She discusses her reasons for writing and her inspirations. I now have three new books (Lolita, Jane Eyre, and Love Medicine) on the stack thanks to Tan's chapter, "My Love Affair with Vladimir Nabokov," on her favorite reads. Tan also examines one of the main themes that put her on the literary map: The relationship between mother and daughter. To some, this might get tiresome or even trivial. However, I found Tan's writing on this subject in The Opposite of Fate to be very compelling because it is human nature and curiosity to want to understand our origins and the persons who brought us into the world and helped shaped our thinking. Tan shows how important, complex, and even humorous this relationship can be.

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