Where the Past Begins : A Writer's Memoir
by Tan, Amy

"From New York Times bestselling author Amy Tan, a memoir on her life as a writer, her childhood, and the symbiotic relationship between fiction and emotional memory"-

*Starred Review* 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 disease-caused brain lesions-Oliver 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. Copyright 2017 Booklist Reviews.

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 chap t ers would have benefited from further editing. A composite portrait that should appeal to the author's fans. Copyright Kirkus 2017 Kirkus/BPI Communications. All rights reserved.

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