Tuesday, January 8, 2013
The Hundred Secret Senses by Amy Tan
Published December 2010 by Penguin Group
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher in exchange for this review
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 hope. In 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.
Years ago, after seeing the movie adaptation, I read Tan's The Joy Luck Club and enjoyed it a lot. I liked the way Tan blended her own American upbringing with her Chinese heritage but for some reason I never picked up another one of her books. When I was approached about reviewing The Hundred Secret Senses I didn't hesitate to say "yes." And then it sat on my shelf ... for months.
It was a slow start for me but Tan soon wrapped me up in the story largely because of the relationship between Olivia (or as Kwan called her "Libby-ah). Olivia has grown up her whole life embarrassed and irritated by Kwan but Kwan never seems to notice, her love never seems to flag. Kwan's stories about past lives eventually reveal the reason for this but are they just stories or do Olivia and Kwan have ties from the past that can't be broken? Like Olivia, I'm willing to go along for the ride because it's such an interesting ride, particularly once the sisters travel to China.