The Opposite of Fate : Memories of a Writing Life by Amy Tan

Are you a fan of Amy Tan?  Then you must try her collection of essays.  Much is revealed about the inspiration and true events that inspire her well loved novels such as The Joy Luck Club and The Hundred Secret Senses.  To read about her life is to find true meaning in the much overused word “amazing.” Tan was raised in Northern California by her mother and father who had married in the United States soon after her mother was released from prison in Shanghai.  Yes, and it gets more interesting as you go along.  A few essays tell of the darkly humorous battles between the young Amy and her mother over everything from piano lessons to Amy’s hippy boyfriend when they lived in Switzerland.  We learn of the fascinating history of the women in her family that provided storylines and characters for many of her novels often re-creating the harrowing experiences of her mother as a child.  Tan’s Grandmother became the concubine of a Chinese businessman through treachery on his part and her vulnerability after becoming a young widow with children.  He continued to treat her and her daughter, Amy’s mother, with disrespect.  The humiliation and dishonor leads to a tragic end for the Grandmother with her young daughter present.  Anyone who has read any of Tan’s novels will recognize where some of her stories have come from.

In another essay Tan writes about the many imaginative papers that college students have written about her books and their fanciful interpretations of her work.  She finds that even the Cliff notes for The Joy Luck Club offer an overly dramatic account in their biographical notes on the author.

I was shocked to learn that I once had carried on “a relationship with an older German man, who had close contacts with drug dealers and organized crime.”

Tan’s voice is much more flip and irreverent in her essays than in her novels.  She has a wicked sense of humor through it all.  If you have enjoyed one of her novels, have writing aspirations of your own or want to read some strange but true accounts of an interesting life, you will enjoy this book.

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