Monday, April 17, 2006

The Opposite of Fate (Amy Tan)

I heard about Amy Tan's nonfiction book The Opposite of Fate on To The Best of Our Knowledge, a national public radio program produced in Madison (you can also download podcasts of the show). In the interview Tan talks about being caught between two cultures, between Chinese fate (from her mother) and Christian faith (from her father). She mentions that when she was a little girl, she told her mother (most likely as an excuse not to brush her teeth that night) there was a ghost in the bathroom. Instead of turning on the bathroom light to show her daughter the ghost didn't exist, Tan's mother took her to the bathroom and said, excitedly, "Where are they? Show me."

I've read The Joy Luck Club, and found Tan's writing to be beautiful and haunting. The Opposite of Fate starts out with a section just as haunting as her fiction. Tan discusses her father's and brother's deaths, which occurred in the same year, and the murder of one of her best friends (whose home she had been in the night before the crime). Although this opening section is probably the most serious and heaviest, I can see why it does need to be first as she returns to these themes often (the book is composed of various essays, speeches, and musings Tan has written throughout the years). Tan explores other mysteries and many often return to her mother. Her mother comes to believe that Tan's grandmother inhabits her computer, and Tan once finds her mother talking to the computer, "Do you still love me? Do you miss me?"

There are other lighthearted moments in the book, such as Tan's discovery of all the erroneous information about her on the Internet and her adventures with the Rock Bottom Remainders, a rock band full of writers including Dave Barry, Stephen King, and Barbara Kingsolver. There are also a few very literary pieces in the book, which got a little too academic for me, but I didn't mind that much as I enjoyed the rest of the book so much with its very personal stories about Tan's family and life.

Next book up: To be determined . . . I'm going to the library this evening to pick up a bunch of books I have on hold, but I'm not sure yet which one I'll read first.

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