Saturday, October 28, 2006

The Hundred Secret Senses by Amy Tan

The Hundred Secret Senses

I really enjoyed Amy Tan’s The Bonesetter’s Daughter, so on my next visit to the library I made a beeline for the T’s and found The Hundred Secret Senses. Diving into it on my return home, initially I thought –‘nice but the same characters rehashed’. Delving further into the book revealed the differences. The same over all theme of old world China meets modern day America prevails: the disparity of a rural culture with hundreds of superstitions and beliefs and urban San Francisco that has dispensed with all that long ago creates the narrative tension around which the protagonists reluctantly dance.

Olivia is a photographer whose marriage has just fallen apart. She is half Chinese, half American and since she was five her Chinese half sister Kwan has both fascinated and irritated her with her stories of ghosts that she sees with her Yin eyes and her memories of her past life that she seems to remember in all its details. As an adult Olivia feels a guilty resentment towards Kwan, who has always loved her devotedly, but oppressively, however rude or offhand Olivia is to her. One of the main rocks that her marriage to Simon foundered on, was the ever-intrusive memory of his previous girlfriend who had died tragically, before Olivia met him. Kwan is determined to help repair Olivia’s marriage and a trip to China working on a travel article seems to be the ideal opportunity to bring them back together.

Amy Tan’s characters are brilliantly three dimensional. You start off sharing Olivia’s irritation with Kwan’s endless talk of spirits and past lives, but by the end, as Olivia’s understanding grows, you are brought to see that Kwan actually was the one who could see the truth beneath life’s facade after all. The emotional and spiritual depth of Amy Tan’s writing is always there but applied with a light hand and liberal doses of poignant humour.

These are books I want to buy, to keep on my shelf to dip into for refreshment. I don’t want to have to give them back to the library and lose this delightful well of quirky humour and idiosyncratic prose.

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Rose&Thorn said...

I read the Bone Setters Daughter and also loved it, will give this a try.

On a similar theme, have you read : Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China? It's not a novel, but reads like one - an excellent read.

Kit said...

I have now, rose, it's an incredible story. Even more incredible that it is all factual.