Thursday, June 23, 2011

Review: The Hundred Secret Senses by Amy Tan

First line: My sister Kwan believes she has yin eyes.

Why I read this: The publicist promoting the re-release of this book asked if I would be willing to read it.

From the back of the book: Set in San Francisco and in a remote village of Southwestern China, Amy Tan's The Hundred Secret Senses is a tale of American assumptions shaken by Chinese ghosts and broadened with 1962, five-year old Olivia meets the half-sister she never knew existed, eighteen-year-old Kwan from China, who sees ghosts with her "yin eyes." Decades later, Olivia describes her complicated relationship with her sister and her failing marriage, as Kwan reveals her story, sweeping the reader into the splendor and violence of mid-nineteenth-century China. With her characteristic wisdom, grace, and humor, Tan conjures up a story of the inheritance of love, its secrets and senses, its illusions and truths.

My thoughts: This is the first Amy Tan book I've read and I really enjoyed it. While not a fast read, it is a compelling story that captivates you from the first page. The novel chronicles Olivia's relationship with Kwan as well as her early courtship and eventual estrangement from Simon. At the same time, in alternating chapters, it tells the story of one of Kwan's past lives in China during the 1800s - a dramatic love story closely tied to Kwan's (and Olivia's) present lives. The characters of Kwan and Olivia, or Libby-ah as Kwan refers to her, were well developed and the description of the Chinese settings were phenomenal - I felt as if I was right there with them. While the story contrasts the Chinese-American and Chinese outlook on life, it is at the very heart a ghost story. Kwan's ghosts are literal - she sees dead (yin) people. They're a major part of her life, and have always been with her. Olivia's ghosts, on the other hand, are metaphorical - she's haunted by her past actions and she's not coping very well at all. Although Kwan seems annoying and pesky to Olivia with all of her spiritual interests, Olivia learns to appreciate Kwan and her ways. I enjoyed watching how the family dynamics played out in this book - the romantic relations between Olivia and Simon and the sister relations between Olivia and Kwan. The story ends with an optimism that suggests, if you are willing to see them, that loved ones are never very far away.

I received a complimentary copy of The Hundred Secret Senses by Amy Tan from Elaine at Penguin/Viking Publicity


  1. I enjoy Amy Tan's work. I have several of her books, including this one. But I have yet to read it. Most of her book are engrossing because of the details. She has a way with describing setting and tone. It's amazing.

  2. I haven't read anything by this author yet. Thanks for the review.

  3. I sadly have never read anything by Amy Tan. But people I know who read her quite frequently love her. I was hoping t read at least a piece of her work in my Asian American lit class but no luck there ... I'll have to go out and pick up her works on my own. This one sounds like a good place to start.


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