Monday, 25 April 2011

The Hundred Secret Senses

I've always intended this blog to be about beloved books which are passed down through the generations from mother to daughter. This female focus is particularly apt when reading Amy Tan. I've read and re-read everything she has published and I can quote huge chunks of my favourite novel The Hundred Secret Senses.

Olivia Yee grows up with her family in San Francisco. Steeped in American culture she is less than pleased when her older half-sister comes from China to live with them. Kwan has extraordinary powers and senses - she can diagnose and heal by touch, when she tries to wear a digital watch the numbers whizz around, she can sense with pinpoint accuracy electrical faults in a circuit and she can talk to the dead. Kwan is a source of constant irritation to Libby:

Kwan has never been able to correctly pronounce my name, Olivia. To her, I will always be Libby-ah, not plain Libby, like the tomato juice, but Libby-ah, like the nation of Muammar Qaddafi. As a consequence, her husband, George Lew, his two sons from a first marriage, and that whole side of the family all call me Libby-ah too. The 'ah' part especially annoys me. It's the Chinese equivalent of saying 'hey,' as in 'Hey Libby, come here.' I asked Kwan once how she'd like it if I introduced her to everyone as 'Hey, Kwan.' She slapped my arm, went breathless with laughter, then said hoarsely, 'I like, I like.' So much for cultural parallels, Libby-ah it is, forever and ever.
As the novel unfolds, Libby learns to love and appreciate the wonderful Kwan. If you are new to Amy Tan, I would suggest reading the novels chronologically. Start with the Joy Luck Club, then The Kitchen God's Wife - watch out for the wonderful Ding Ho Flower Shop - and then The Hundred Secret Senses.

12 comments:

anothercookiecrumbles said...

I read Joy Luck Club, which I thought was alright - nothing spectacular. I have Saving Fish From Drowning on my shelf, which I'm planning on reading next. I did want to read Kitchen God's Knife next, but someone gifted me Saving Fish, hence....

I hope I enjoy her other works a lot lot more :))

Sunday Taylor said...

This sounds wonderful. I have only read the Joy Luck Club. I am now inspired to read some of her other titles. Thanks for the recommendations!

Cath said...

This is an author I would never have thought to pick up but perhaps now I will.

Lilacs In May said...

I love THSS. I first read it last year, and devoured it in a few days. Kwan was a magical, lyrical character who stayed with me long after I closed the covers for the final time. I will read the book again, always a good sign, as there are so many layers to absorb and enjoy.

bookssnob said...

I read The Joy Luck Club as a teenager. My sister pressed it on me, but I don't think I was old enough to appreciate it, as it hasn't stayed with me. As you recommend Amy Tan so highly, Nicola, I will be certain to seek her out more fully.

Joanne said...

Like anothercookiecrumbles I've read The Joy Luck Club and have Saving Fish From Drowning on my shelf. I didn't think to read them in order though - thanks for the tip.

Nadia said...

I read The Joy Luck Club ages ago and really enjoyed it. I haven't picked up any of Tan's other books though - perhaps, its time I did. Thanks for the tip on reading them in order ;)

Anbolyn said...

I just heard that Tan has contracted with Harper Collins to publish a new book called The Valley of Amazement. There was no publication date mentioned, though...

booksaremyboyfriends said...

Yes, I am an Amy Tan nerd too! I love her novels but it's actually her memoir that is my favorite book of hers.

Penny said...

I've seen Amy Tan's name, but have never read any of her books. I trust your judgement, Nicola, so I'm going to give her a try! :o)

Vintage Reading said...

anothercookiecrumbles, I have to say I wasn't fond of Saving Fish From Drowning. I like that she writes about Myanmar/Burma but I don't think it has the skill of her earlier novels. Look forward to your Tan posts.

Sunday Taylor, look forward to your thoughts on Amy Tan.

Cath, I came across Tan by chance when I was working in a library in the 80's. A colleague recommended her and I loved her novels. It's good when you accidentally discover a writer you love!

Lilacs, yes Kwan is a wonderful literary creation. I do think Tan peaked with this novel, I like her later stuff but this was my favourite. She has a new book out next year, by the way!

booksnob, I think The Joy Luck Club has quite a complicated structure, so it may not be the best place to start with Tan. I'd go for The Kitchen God's Wife or The Hundred Secret Senses. Please post your thoughts.

Joanne, Tan will have a new novel out next year which I'm eagerly anticipating. So you have some time to catch up!

Nadia, the novels are not connected chronologically but I think reading them in order shows her development as a writer. The first three are simply brilliant.

Anbolyn, yes there is scanty information at the moment. I believe Tan has suffered from Lyme's Disease so probably has not been as prolific as she would otherwise have been. I believe the novel is published in 2010 and returns to the mother/daughter theme. Can't wait!

booksaremyboyfriends - indeed! Always good to 'meet' an Amy Tan nerd. Yes, I loved The Opposite of Faith, too.

Penny, oh goodness, hope my recommendations don't disappoint!

A Bookish Space said...

I love Amy Tan, and we seem to have the same of editions of a few of her books. My favourite is the Kitchen God's Wife. The only book of hers I haven't read is The Joy Luck Club, although I enjoyed the film.