Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Book Review - The Hundred Secret Senses by Amy Tan

I really enjoy Amy Tan's books.  They are fresh and interesting.  I enjoy the contrast in American and Chinese cultures she addresses so well.  This one was better in most respects that either The Joy Luck Club or The Bonesetter's Daughter, both of which, I also enjoyed.

This one is quite mystical and philosophical, perhaps more so than any of Tan's novels, which gave it the appeal I prefer.  I want to learn something about myself in a book, even if it's about China.  I felt I learned a lot this time.  Here's a quote about one great lesson for me:
"Anyway, yin people talk about life already gone, like banquet, many-many flavors, 'Oh,' they say, 'now I remember.  This part I enjoy, this I not enjoy enough.  This I eat up too fast.  Why I don't taste that one?  Why I let this piece of my life gone spoiled, complete wasted?'"
You'll surely note the pidgin English, in the statement.  This is so true of me.  I pursue this pleasure, obtain that instrument, acquire that tool or those friends, only to get distracted and neglect some, while consuming others, not necessarily by priority, but based on the expedience of the moment.  Who wants to wind up with a pile of regret at the end.

The story moves from San Francisco to a small village outside Guilin, China.  Tan is a master of description and I loved my visit to China through her words.  The tastes, smells, traffic, shops all come to life in the pages of the book.

Much of the story takes place in the turmoil of the nineteenth century where we learn of Christian missionaries and political waves of oppression and war.  The main story is modern.  In fact too modern for my taste.  A bit crass, drifting in the winds of an unanchored culture of academia, hedonism, and agnostic futility.

The story, philosophy, discovery all could have, should have taught great lessons to the protagonist upon whom it all seems to have no conclusion, no effect.  It looks like, Tan wants to be realistic in the end, for after taking her character through opportunity after opportunity to learn and grow; after making the reader aware that the woman can make astute observations about the meaning of her experience; she lets us see, that ultimately she is neither changed nor blessed by the struggle she experiences.  It's as if she is saying life, experience, education, discovery offer no real gifts to those who endure them.

I'd characterize the book as magnificently entertaining, and largely pointless.

Three Stars

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