“The Opposite of Fate” by Amy Tan

Date finished: 9th June 2012

The Opposite of Fate is a collection of essays and writing from novelist Amy Tan, author of, amongst others, The Joy Luck Club. The pieces vary in length, and cover topics such as growing up as a first generation American to Chinese parents, being required reading in educational institutions and the papers written about her work, moving to New York when her friend was diagnosed with a terminal illness and even a letter of apology for having to decline an invitation to join a panel at a literary event.

I received this as a present and I thought it was a novel, so when I actually looked at the notes on the back and realised it was non-fiction, I was a bit put off. Why would I want to read a memoir of an author I’d never read any of their novels? Actually, it’s turned out to be such a joy to read. I loved the variety of the pieces, from what the biographical remembrances to the reasons why she started to write, to what she loves to read.

My favourite piece of all is entitled Required reading and other dangerous subjects. Since her book The Joy Luck Club has been added to the educational curriculum under the heading of Required Reading or Multicultural Literature, she often encounters students who are/have written essays, papers or their thesis on her and her books. She talks about the variety of inferences and suppositions people have made about her work, and the analysis performed where the writer has found a particular symbolism or association with, for example, the number four. This is something I’ve always struggled with as a reader as opposed to a literary academic. I’ve often heard people talking about themes and symbols within text, which I’ve never noticed. I’m a reader who loves the story and the characters and wants to be entertained, so in depth analysis of books has always eluded me. That might sound odd as a book blogger, but I think all I do is put down my thoughts on a book and what I enjoyed about it (or not) and I don’t think I ever analyse, just commentate. So, it was wonderful to read the writers perspective on reading what other people have thought about her novel, and it made me feel less unworthy as a reader not to have noticed themes and symbols in books before.

In fact, this lack of pretension and her honesty about what and how she has written and lived is one of the joys of reading this book. Throughout the essays, Tan describes coincidences and experiences that she has had which can be interpreted in a variety of ways depending on your views and beliefs, so you might consider some of them being blessed by a higher deity, or for another incident, it could be you believe in ghosts, or you could just be a proponent of coincidence. Never once does Tan make a judgement or a conclusion on who is “right” about what has occurred, she simply explains what has happened and lets the reader make up their own mind about what they believe in themselves. It makes for a very inclusive experience as the reader never feels isolated from the Tan and her beliefs.

Her style of writing is very comfortable to read, and I loved dipping in and out of this book over the last week. I’m also now very much intrigued to read her novels, particularly The Joy Luck Club, and have added them to my wishlist for future consideration. Very enjoyable.

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