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Amy Tan: Winning on Style Points
Brief Biography • B. 2/19/52 in Oakland, CA • F: John Yeuhan Tan, minister, electrical engineer • M: Daisy (Tu Ching) Tan • San Jose State U (BA ‘73, MA ’74 (Eng/ling) • Married (1974): Louis DeMattei—lawyer • Hobbies: • Piano • Drawing, • Skiing • Billiards
Career: • Started business-writing firm: speeches, sales presentations, etc., for executives. • Free-lance technical writer (IBM,etc) writing computer manuals. • Work in language therapy programs. • Creative writing for therapeutic value. • Published a couple of short stories (later in JLC)
Novels • Joy Luck Club(1989)—National Book Critics Circle Award • The Kitchen God’s Wife(1991)—Booklist editor’s choice • The Hundred Secret Senses(1995) • The Bonesetter’s Daughter(2001)
Children’s books • The Moon Lady (1992) • The Chinese Siamese Cat(1994)
Critical essay: Analysis seeks to answer: What kind of work is this? How does it work? What is its effect? Review: Analysis seeks to answer: Is the work worth reading? Who will appreciate this? What will they appreciate? Criticism on Tan…Two types of “Criticism”
Tan’s critics: Where to place her? Amy Tan is part of a movement of Asian-American writers that includes Maxine Hong Kingston (The Woman Warrior) and Wakako Yamauchi (Songs My Mother Taught Me). A large part of Tan's contribution to the modern Asian-American literary boom is her widespread popularity. …
Limits of Traditional terminology Attraction of poetic, even non-literary language Tan’s Critics: The Struggle For Vocabulary Some useful vocabulary
Vignette: • Anecdote: A usually short narrative of an interesting, amusing, or biographical incident. Webster’s 9th Collegiate Dictionay A miniature portrait.
Nonlinear: not proceeding in a straight line (beginning, to middle, to end) Holistic: perceived as a whole More helpful vocab. for JLC: • Recursive: returning again and again to the same points (on a mental continuum). • Paradigm: typical pattern or process • Archetype:original type or model(myth)
1. Sometimes Joy Luck reads like Days of Our Lives trying to be The Brothers Karamazov: a crunchy coating of flashy, disorienting narrative devices over a chewy center of syrupy sentimentality. . . 2. Her book is an act of deliberate passion: a heroically understated mapping of powerful moments using the contours of evocative imagery. Reading her is like ice-fishing over a steaming lagoon. Amy Tan’s Style: Two Critics:
…ice fishing over a… [which is best?] a. steaming lagoon b. steaming sea c. tropical sea d. tropical lagoon e. steaming, tropical sea X. hot tub?
Michael Dorris: “Amy Tan, a writer of dazzling talent, has created an intricate tapestry of a book--one tale woven into the other, a panorama of distinctive voices….”Chicago Tribune--Books,Mar. 12, 1989 Susan Dooley: “…a book without a central plot but with characters and events that are as powerful as myth, and which often entangle it. … Each story is a fascinating vignetteand together they weave the reader through a world….Washington Post Book World, Mar.5, 1989 Initial Reviews:[see CLC Vol. 59] Orville Schell: “a collage… a jewel of a book.” --New York Times Review of Books, Mar. 19, 1989
One example?... (From a review in The New Statesman-- someone who ought to know better!) All of [Joy Luck] is interesting: Chinese customs, ideas and superstitions; the contrast between Chinese suffering and strength, American ease and unhappiness. … But some of it, I feel, Amy Tan’s teachers, writer’s group, and editors should have cautioned her against. ...
New Statesman review continued: ...The Joy Luck Club is overschematic. We move too often from one corner of the table to another to remember or care enough about each. And at the same time it is over-significant. In the end it gives you indigestion, as if you’ve eaten too many Chinese fortune cookies, or read too many American Mother’s Day cards. ...
Carolyn See: The Joy Luck Club is so powerful, so full of magic, that by the end of the second paragraph, your heart catches; by the end of the first page, tears blur your vision, and one third of the way down on Page 26, you know you won’t be doing anything of importance until you have finished this novel. ... LA Times Book Review, March 12, 1989 Emotional responses…
If, so far, I haven’t done justice to this book, that’s because you can’t turn a poem into prose, or explain magic, without destroying the magic, destroying the poem. ... Joy Luck Club is dazzling because of the worldsit gives us.” Carolyn See continued…
More cold-eyed, sardonic view… Suzanne D’Mello: from a review of The Bonesetter’s Daughter(in The Weekly Standard) In her enormously popular first novel, The Joy Luck Club, Amy Tan took up the relations of immigrant Chinese mothers and their assimilated daughters, shifting her story back and forth from pre-World War II China to modern-day San Francisco, alternating the voices of the mothers with the voices of their daughters.
“China Tan” cont… For her second novel, The Kitchen God’s Wife, she explored the relations of immigrant Chinese mothers and their assimilated daughters, shifting her story back and forth from pre-World War II China to modern San Francisco, alternating the voices of the mothers with the voices of their daughters.
“China Tan” cont… And now, in the The Bonesetter/s Daughter, Amy Tan has decided to investigate the relations of immigrant Chinese mothers and their assimilated daughters, shifting her story back and forth between pre-World War II China and modern San Francisco. …
The great irony is that since her first novel, Tan has been praised for her deeply understood and deeply felt portrayals of Chinese mothers and daughters. … But the truth is that Tan’s understanding of her mother as a struggling immigrant in this country was never more than superficial, and it was always very far from compassionate. In the author’s latest novel, Tan’s mother comes off just as badly as she did in the first. “China Tan” cont… Formulaic The accusation?
My mother named me after the street that we lived on: Waverly Place Jong, my official name for important American documents. But my family called me Meimei, “Little Sister.” I was the youngest,the only daughter. Each morning before school, my mother would twist and yank on my thick black hair until she had formed two tightly wound pigtails. One day, as she struggled to weave a hard-toothed comb through my disobedient hair, I had a sly thought. JLC excerpt: from Waverly Jong
I asked her, “Ma, what is Chinese torture?” My mother shook her head. A bobby pin was wedged between her lips. She wetted her palm and smoothed the hair above my ear, then pushed the pin in so that it nicked sharply against my scalp.
“Who say this word?” she asked without a trace of knowing how wicked I was being. I shrugged my shoulders and said, “Some boy in my class said Chinese people do Chinese torture.” “Chinese people do many things,” she said simply. “Chinese people do business, do medicine, do painting. Not lazy like American people. We do torture. Best torture.”
Go to p.274, teacher guy.(Then 286) See Washington Post review,BookWorld: Oct.5, 2003