Book review: The Opposite of Fate, by Amy Tan

This is my first book by Amy Tan, whose bestseller The Joy Luck Club came out when I was a year old. It’s on my audiobook list now.

She’s part of a generation of writers (and an erstwhile rock-and-roll band, made up of those same writers) I’ve been following with varying levels of interest; I’ve read their memoir/autobiographical books, anyway, so I feel like I know them apart from their fiction. They are two other members of the band including Amy Tan: Stephen King and Barbara Kingsolver. As I’ve mentioned beforeOn Writing is the only King book I really like, but I’m a big fan of Kingsolver (who broke out in a big way with her debut book the year I was born).

Though Amy Tan is nearly the same age as the other two (that is, also a baby boomer), her story is notably different in that she has the perspective of a first-generation Chinese American.

There was a great range of subjects in this collection:

  • Autobiographical detail about her upbringing, especially her relationship with her mother (I’m in awe of how she overcame those turbulent years — especially with all her mother’s suicide threats, physical abuse, even holding a knife to Amy’s throat — to have a good relationship with her in later decades)
  • Chinese and Chinese-American culture
  • What it’s like to become a successful author and to collaborate on a movie version of your book
  • What it’s like to be in a rock-and-roll band with other famous authors, to be wild and scandalous and break all your own rules and conservative upbringing and form a new family that way (yes, terribly unique and hard to achieve, but damn she made it sound wonderful)
  • The restrictive culture around being a “writer of color,” especially as a trailblazer of Asian-American literature and what that even means
  • Heightening awareness of Lyme disease

For all those reasons, I count this a good book and one I would recommend, and I do want to read at least two of her books now (Joy Luck Club and her latest, The Valley of Amazement, as it sounds of particular interest to me).

If you’re interested in a discussion of more recent Asian-American literature, The Toast just published a roundtable discussion with some young Asian American writers.

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