LITERATURE

Where the Past Begins

Harper. Oct. 2017. 368p. ISBN 9780062319296. $28.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062319302. MEMOIR
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Novelist (The Joy Luck Club; The Kitchen God's Wife) Tan's second memoir (after 2001's The Opposite of Fate) is a nonlinear exploration of her life, her family's history, and her attempts to understand them as a writer, musician, linguist, and daughter. Each lens she applies to her mother's complexity, her father's turmoil, and her grandmother's actions offers a different way of understanding the past and how that resonates today for Tan. Her family's history is dramatic and captivating, and readers will likely find themselves reflecting on the weight of their own family legends through Tan's thoughtful musings. The email exchanges between Tan and her editor highlight both the writerly discussion about character and plot and the less-glamorous frustrations with formatting in Word that we're all maddeningly familiar with. Tan's tenacity and creativity in trying to understand her parents and their stories is both relatable and remarkable.
VERDICT Readers of Tan's novels will enjoy learning about the inspiration behind many of her stories. Book clubs and those who enjoy writers' memoirs, stories about difficult families, or children-of-immigrants narratives will also find much to savor. [See Prepub Alert, 4/24/17.]

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