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Where the Past Began: A Writer’s Memoir, by Amy Tan.

September 4, 2018

Where the Past Begins
Where the Past Began: A Writer’s Memoir, by Amy Tan.

5 stars

A memoir tracing key events in a well-known Chinese American and her families which focuses on what it means to be a writer.

Amy Tan is a major Chinese American writer. Born in 1952 to recent immigrants from China, she experienced a strange and chaotic childhood.  She graduated from college and earned a M.A. in linguistics before becoming a freelance writer.  Her first novel, The Joy Luck Club  (1989), was surprisingly successful and introduced two themes that have since become popular with numerous writers.  She focused on mother/daughter relationships, and she wrote about what immigrants had left behind rather than what they hoped to find in America.  She has gone on to write other novels drawing on her Chinese American background, as well as an opera and several children’s books.

Where the Past Began is unusual, even for a memoir.  Tan does relate a great deal of information about her own life and the lives of her ancestors, especially the women from whom she is descended.  But she does not tell her stories in chronological order, preferring to circle back and forth around key events.  Many of these stories are highly unusual.  What I found most interesting, however, was her attempt to put into words what it means to her to be a writer. She observes that sometimes she writes to learn about herself, and she seems to be doing just that as she tries to put into words the swirling images and metaphors that come to her when she writes.  She brings us inside her writing process as well as her past, not so we can duplicate her method, but simply to communicate to us who she is.

I strongly recommend this book, especially for those readers who love words and images—and Amy Tan.

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