Sunday, November 27, 2005

The Opposite of Fate by Amy Tan

For the past week, I have been listening to Amy Tan read her nonfiction pieces collected in the volume The Opposite of Fate: A Book of Musings. I had heard her reading on an audio book The Bonesetter’s Daughter and on NPR’s Fresh Air with Terri Gross. She reads as though she is speaking with you intimately. In the past week I feel I have gotten to know her well. She is willing to tell much about herself and her family.

The title The Opposite of Fate refers to Tan’s belief that a person benefits from taking charge of her life, not accepting “the hand she is dealt” or “the way it has to be.” When her doctors could not find why she felt depressed and suffered hallucinations, suggesting that she was physically well and would probably improve, referring her to a psychiatrist, she sought new doctors. It took many tests and much time to discover that she had Lyme disease. If she had not insisted on more investigation, her condition would not have been properly treated.

The book starts with stories about her father and her mother, both of whom immigrated to the United States from China. Tan used their Chinese and immigration stories as inspiration for her fiction, but she insists that she is an American writer, not an ethnic writer or "author of color." She was raised in America and lives an American life. Her themes are American concerns.

In one essay, Tan bemoans the preponderance of misinformation about her on the Internet. Contrary to what you might read at some websites, she has never been divorced and never had children. She claims many of the sites also have very old photos of her, another form of misinformation. The Cliff Notes for The Joy Luck Club are also full of errors.

I enjoyed listening to her story of joining the band Rock Bottom Remainders, which also includes Stephen King, Dave Barry, and other authors. Learning to have fun, wearing wigs and outlandish outfits, singing lead for “These Boots Are Made for Walking,” has not always been easy for her.

Tan has many stories: surviving an automobile accident and a pizza parlor robbery, making movies, going on book tours, dealing with her mother’s death, giving commencement speeches, and more. The Opposite of Fate is very entertaining.

Tan, Amy. The Opposite of Fate. New York: Putnam, 2003. ISBN 0399150749.

8 CDs. Grand Haven, MI: Brilliance Audio, 2003. ISBN 1593550782

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