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Culture and Arts

Culture Watch

In this issue:

Books: Julia Sneden reviews two: The Opposite of Fate - A Book Of Musings: It is Tan’s genius to look beyond those to the miracle of hope that somehow manages to survive even the most dismal circumstances. It is above all a brave book.

The Rule of Four has been touted as ...”the ultimate puzzle book” revolving around a fifteenth century book, The Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, which puzzled scholars for five hundred years.

The Opposite of Fate - A Book Of Musings
by Amy Tan, G. P. Putnam & Sons, publisher, 398 pp

Fans who know about Amy Tan’s battle with health problems will surely welcome this lively, episodic book which clearly demonstrates once again that Tan is a first rate American writer. The fact that it was written during her major illness makes it – and Ms. Tan - even more remarkable.

Author of four novels (The Joy Luck Club, The Kitchen God’s Wife, The Hundred Secret Senses, The Bonesetter’s Daughter) and two children’s books (The Moon Lady, The Chinese Siamese Cat), Tan has stepped away from the world of fiction (one hopes only briefly) and given us what she calls “musings” on her life. While there are many autobiographical facts here, the intent of the book is far richer than a mere recounting of events. Tan invites us to share not only some of her life stories, but also her clearly articulated opinions about how those events have shaped her life and therefore her writing.

The book is divided into seven sections, with anywhere from three to seven short pieces in each. Along with Tan’s familiar themes (the dynamics of mother/daughter relationships, the strengths and tensions of immigrant/first generation Americans), she discusses matters we’ve not heard from her before: her passion for language, her love of libraries, the difficulties of writing and rewriting, the influences of friends and editors, her experiences with the Rock Bottom Remainders (a rock band made up of authors, among them Stephen King and Dave Barry), the Hollywood experience of making The Joy Luck Club into a movie, her horrific battle with Lyme disease, and a whole lot more.

Tan’s clear-eyed assessments are brightened by an often self-deprecating sense of humor. It is not, however, a funny book. Many of the sections deal with real trauma, real pain, and real despair. It is Tan’s genius to look beyond those to the miracle of hope that somehow manages to survive even the most dismal circumstances. It is above all a brave book.

Her description of the all-pervading symptoms of Lyme disease is truly harrowing, as is the fact that her doctors didn’t put the symptoms together to reach a diagnosis. It is quite possible that readers suffering from similar symptoms will recognize themselves in Tan’s final chapter, so that the book will do more good than even its author intended.

But for the rest of us, who just read Amy Tam because we enjoy her writing, The Opposite of Fate will, in the opinion of this reviewer, be highly satisfying. In her piece about editing and choosing The Best Short Stories of 1999, Amy Tan had this to say about her selections:

“By the end of the story, what I’ve witnessed and experienced as reader is so interesting, so intense, so transcendent that if someone were to ask me what the story was about, I would not be able to distill it into an easy answer. It would be a sacrilege for me to say it is about, say, survival or hope or the endlessness of love. For the whole story is what the story is about, and there is no shorthanding it. I can only say please read it yourself.”

No reviewer of this book could put it better. — JS

Review of The Rule of Four >>

Culture Watch Archives

© 2004 Julia Sneden for SeniorWomenWeb
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