Booklist Starred Review:
“A profound work of endless fascination, discovery, and compassion.”
WHERE THE PAST BEGINS by Amy Tan
Oct. 2017. 400p. Ecco, hardcover, $28.99(9780062319296). 813.6.
REVIEW. First published September 17, 2017 (Booklist).
In her ambushing and revealing memoir, beloved novelist Tan (The Valley of Amazement, 2013) chronicles with striking candor, sharp wit, and storytelling magic stranger-than-fiction traumas. She illuminates the often-tumultuous role music has played in her life, and how music and her love of drawing have shaped her writing. She recounts two neurological disasters, one with Lyme disease–caused brain lesions—Oliver Sacks wrote about her “seizure induced hallucinations”—the other a severe concussion that ended her pre-novelist academic life in linguistics. As though her excruciating battle to regain language skills isn’t astounding enough, Tan also tracks down the education expert who gave her IQ tests throughout her childhood, an inquiry that unexpectedly yields harrowing hidden truths about her family’s past in Shanghai, from the fate of her concubine grandmother to her mother’s wildly abusive first marriage, a scandalous affair with an electrical engineer, their marriage and precarious immigrant status in the U.S., and their debilitating struggle to establish themselves only to have Tan’s father and older brother develop fatal brain tumors. In this year of intense literary memoirs, including Sherman Alexie’s You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me and Richard Ford’s Between Them, Tan’s is electric with her forensic curiosity and extraordinary ability to extract from suffering startling insights into the mind-body connection, inheritance, memory, and creativity. A profound work of endless fascination, discovery, and compassion.
HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: Any book by best-selling Tan is cause for excitement, and this surprising and gripping memoir will be zealously promoted and discussed.
— Donna Seaman
Publishers Weekly starred review:
“Wise and profound.” –
WHERE THE PAST BEGINS by Amy Tan
Ecco, $28.99 (400p) ISBN 978-0-06-231929-6In this wise and profound memoir, novelist Tan (The Joy Luck Club, etc.), now 65, looks back on her life, illuminating the path that led her to writing. Tan’s fans and writers of all kinds will find her latest work fascinating; she explores how her writing has evolved, and how memory sparks imagination. She also reveals how listening to classical music helps her create scenes during the writing process. Writers will find a chapter of emails between Tan and her editor Dan Halpern to be clever and endearing, illustrating how an exceptional editor helps shape a book and shore up a writer’s self-esteem. Tan also reveals that it takes her years to write a novel, with each more difficult than the last. Woven throughout are tales from the writer’s sometimes traumatic past. Her mother, once married to an abusive Chinese pilot, left her husband and three daughters in China, married Tan’s father, had three more children, and occasionally threatened suicide. When Tan was 15, her father, an electrical engineer and part-time evangelical minister, died of a brain tumor—as did her older brother six months later. Despite hardships and sacrifices, the Tan family held fast to one another, and the “resilience” of love is apparent in these pages. The memoir reveals that, for Tan, the past is ever present, serving as a wellspring of emotion and writing inspiration. (Oct.)
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Advance Praise for Where the Past Begins: