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Where the Past Begins
Cover of Where the Past Begins
Where the Past Begins
Memory and Imagination
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From New York Times bestselling author Amy Tan, a memoir about finding meaning in life through acts of creativity and imagination. As seen on PBS American Masters "Unintended Memoir."In Where the Past...
From New York Times bestselling author Amy Tan, a memoir about finding meaning in life through acts of creativity and imagination. As seen on PBS American Masters "Unintended Memoir."In Where the Past...
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  • From New York Times bestselling author Amy Tan, a memoir about finding meaning in life through acts of creativity and imagination. As seen on PBS American Masters "Unintended Memoir."

    In Where the Past Begins, bestselling author of The Joy Luck Club and The Valley of Amazement Amy Tan reveals the ways that our memories and personal experiences can inform our creative work. Drawing on her vivid impressions of her upbringing, Tan investigates the truths and inspirations behind her writing while illuminating how we all explore, confront, and process complex memories, especially half-forgotten ones from childhood.

    With candor, empathy, and humor, Tan sheds light on her own writing process, sharing her hard-won insights on the nature of creativity and inspiration while exploring the universal urge to examine truth through the workings of imagination—and what that imaginative world tells us about our own lives. Where the Past Begins is both a unique look into the mind of an extraordinary storyteller and an indispensable guide for writers, artists, and other creative thinkers.

About the Author-

  • Amy Tan is the author of The Joy Luck Club, The Kitchen God's Wife, The Hundred Secret Senses, The Bonesetter's Daughter, The Opposite of Fate: Memories of a Writing Life, Saving Fish from Drowning, and two children's books, The Moon Lady and The Chinese Siamese Cat, which was adapted into a PBS television series. Tan was also a coproducer and coscreenwriter of the film version of The Joy Luck Club. Her essays and stories have appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies, and her work has been translated into thirty-five languages. She lives with her husband in San Francisco and New York.

Reviews-

  • Publisher's Weekly

    Starred review from August 28, 2017
    In 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.

  • Kirkus

    August 1, 2017
    The bestselling author reflects on family, reading, writing, and language in a memoir characterized by "free-form spontaneity."After Tan published her last novel (The Valley of Amazement, 2013, etc.), her editor suggested that she compile a volume drawn from some of the thousands of emails she sent him during the time she wrote the book. It would be "easy to pull together," he said, as well as "compelling" and "insightful." Fortunately, Tan rejected that idea, although she does include one chapter containing a selection of emails between them, some of which offer glimpses of her writing process. The rest of her uneven memoir consists of "a potluck of topics and tone": chapters about her response to music, the idea of genius, emotions, her own personality as "unstoppable," learning to read, and her family. Readers of Tan's previous fiction and nonfiction will find a familiar character: her mother, a difficult, moody woman who had an indelible influence on the author. "The main problem, as I saw it growing up," Tan reflects, "is that she was negative in her thinking. She saw falsity in people who were nice. She saw slights in how people treated her." Bad thoughts festered in her mind until they emerged "in an explosive threat" that blighted Tan's life. A psychiatrist who knew her mother marveled that Tan didn't suffer "from a disabling psychiatric disorder as an adult." But she admits that her childhood experiences made her "intolerant of emotional manipulation." Tan is forthcoming about various illnesses, especially her treatment for seizures with a medication that left her feeling unusually happy. When a friend suggested she stop taking the mood-altering drug, she resisted: "Whatever the medication had done to my brain, I had become protective of my new sympathetic nervous system friend." Tan's candid revelations make much of the book entertaining, but the slight journal entries and short pieces she calls "quirks" read like filler, and many chapters would have benefited from further editing. A composite portrait that should appeal to the author's fans.

    COPYRIGHT(2017) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Booklist

    Starred review from September 1, 2017
    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 diseasecaused brain lesionsOliver 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.(Reprinted with permission of Booklist, copyright 2017, American Library Association.)

  • Library Journal

    October 15, 2017

    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.]--Kate Sheehan, C.H. Booth Lib., Newtown, CT

    Copyright 2017 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Library Journal

    May 15, 2017

    In her first nonfiction work, The Opposite of Fate, the fabled Joy Luck Club author addressed the memories that have shaped her fiction. Her new book digs deeper, revealing more about he difficult childhood, her never-before-discussed relationship with her father, family secrets, and how all these experiences led inevitably to her becoming a writer. With a 200,000-copy first printing and a five-city tour.

    Copyright 2017 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Booklist (starred review) "Any book by best-selling Tan is cause for excitement, and this surprising and gripping memoir will be zealously promoted and discussed."

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