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Where the Past Begins: A Writer's Memoir

3.48  ·  Rating details ·  1,534 ratings  ·  285 reviews
In Where the Past Begins, bestselling author of The Joy Luck Club and The Valley of Amazement Amy Tan is at her most intimate in revealing the truths and inspirations that underlie her extraordinary fiction. By delving into vivid memories of her traumatic childhood, confessions of self-doubt in her journals, and heartbreaking letters to and from her mother, she gives evide ...more
Hardcover, 368 pages
Published October 17th 2017 by Ecco
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Kathy I found this book highly repetitive and pretty much of a slog. It is nonfiction. While it does not have any sex themes at all, there is a suicide by…moreI found this book highly repetitive and pretty much of a slog. It is nonfiction. While it does not have any sex themes at all, there is a suicide by opium overdose. It is not graphically described. I would suggest one of Tan's novels rather than this selection.(less)
Melinda Bacurin No, I did not. I have loved all of Amy Tan’s fiction novels, however I found this very difficult to read. I believe it would be extremely boring for a…moreNo, I did not. I have loved all of Amy Tan’s fiction novels, however I found this very difficult to read. I believe it would be extremely boring for a younger audience.(less)

Community Reviews

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3.48  · 
Rating details
 ·  1,534 ratings  ·  285 reviews

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Nov 07, 2017 rated it really liked it
I have been reading Amy Tan's novel since I was first introduced to The Joy Luck Club when I was in high school. At the time I lacked the life experience to thoroughly enjoy her work about complex mother and daughter relationships, so over the last year I have been rereading these intricate novels. After immersing myself in two of Tan's novels this year, it came as no surprise to me that I would want to read her new memoir Where the Past Begins as soon as it came out. While not Tan's usual ficti ...more
Angela M
Oct 31, 2017 rated it liked it

I have enjoyed several of Amy Tan’s novels with their reflections on her Chinese heritage, on mother - daughter relationships. This is what prompted me to read her memoir which I hoped would be a look at her life, her family and the impact of these memories in her work. For the most part, this is what the book is , but it wasn't quite what I expected. It's a blend of thoughts on various things such as music and its impact on her writing , her self analysis of her creative process. While those se
Mar 28, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2018, favorites
My review, as well as my other thoughts on reading, also can be found on my blog.

Ostensibly about Tan's origins as a writer, Where the Past Begins examines many facets of the novelist's life and career: her earliest memories, her relationship to her parents, her musical tastes, her interest in linguistics, her revision process. Interspersed between the memoir's main pieces are impressionistic sketches excerpted from Tan's journal. In her introduction, Tan frames the book as a kind of "unintended
Diane Barnes
Dec 28, 2017 rated it really liked it
3.5 rounded up. This is described as a memoir of Any Tan's childhood and writing methods, but I think it's mostly a memoir of her mother and their relationship. Like Pat Conroy and his difficult love/hate connection with his violent father that infused all his books, the same thing appears to be true of Any Tan and her Chinese immigrant, mentally ill, difficult mother. All of her books contain elements of her mother's life, in an attempt to understand what made her tick. Certainly her childhood ...more
Aug 31, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This book could easily have been titled Where a Writer Begins. Of course, I prefer the actual title and subtitle much better. Tan is courageous in what she reveals about her past and her pinging, beautiful mind. She deeply delves into her past as she pursues her sense of self and what created the wonderful writer that she is. I was moved. I was in awe. And, I am grateful for her generosity.
I continue to vacillate between 3 and 5 stars on this one. It's another one of those reads that I just can't pin down. (Proust started this dilemma of indecision.)

I've been a long-time fan of Amy Tan's novels, starting with The Joy Luck Club, and delighting in her works ever since, so I thought this would be a natural extension of my Tan-fandom. I'm not sure that I gained much, despite enjoying this.

Sometimes, peeking behind the curtain doesn't reveal all that much. There is a sense, throughou
Book Riot Community
Love the novels of Amy Tan? Then you’ll love to read about her childhood and influences. Love reading books where writers discuss their craft? Then you’ll love learning about Tan’s process and how she brings memory into her work. She’s a wonderful writer, and it’s a delight to have a work of nonfiction from her. It’s a win for everyone, really.

Backlist bump: The Bonesetter’s Daughter by Amy Tan

Tune in to our weekly podcast dedicated to all things new books, All The Books:
Feb 22, 2018 rated it it was ok
I have been reading Amy Tan since I was a teenager. I still have hard copies of her books on my shelf. I was annoyed the other day when I realized that somehow my copy of "The Joy Luck Club" went missing and had to go out and purchase another copy. I have been waiting for weeks now to get this copy of her memoir from the library. I was initially pretty happy with the memoir, but it was a very hard read to get through.

"Where the Past Begins" I have to say does give you insight into some of Tan's
Stunning and a real privilege to read. Read my full review HERE .
3.5 stars, rounded up to 4.

When I first learned that I had been approved for an ARC of Amy Tan’s new memoir, I was excited, as I’ve enjoyed quite a few of Amy’s books and count The Joy Luck Club as one of my favorites. Reading the summary, I understood going into it that this would be a memoir where Amy talks about many of the things that influenced her writing over the last 3 decades, with emphasis on her family’s history and her own cultural heritage, both of which have served as a basis for
Oct 27, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I attended a talk by Amy Tan when she was promoting her first book. I enjoyed her talk and reading that book. I put her on my list of authors to follow. Since that time, I have read all her books and make a point of attending her talks whenever she is in my area.

This book is a memoir of her life to-date. She traces her family history through photographs. Tan describes her skill of nature drawings and compares that creativity to her writing. She discusses her mother’s mental illness and its effec
Jul 25, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I think lots of people will like this book, but if you're a writer, reading this will be like reading the best and most ethical kind of pornography, or like eating the most delicious dessert you've had in a long time. Amy Tan makes me want to write and write and write and I could feel the impulse in my body as I read this, reminding me of just how physical writing can and its joys can be.
I'm never good at reviewing nonfiction!

This is not a book I would have chosen to read myself, despite having read and enjoyed Amy Tan's first two novels. But a friend of mine gave it to me, so I felt obligated to read it in a timely fashion. And I'm very glad I did.

This is apparently a collection of essays that Amy Tan was "assigned" to do by her editor. So while they are loosely joined in a linear fashion as a memoir, they also range over a wide number of subjects. Because they are each sort-
Kressel Housman
Dec 30, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I've read two of Amy Tan's novels, so I went into this book knowing why she's one of the most acclaimed writers alive today, but what really got me excited about embarking on it was the subject matter. It wasn't just for the insight to be gained from a master like her talking about her writing process; it was because the flap copy specifically said it was about delving into memory and how that shapes writing. That there's a connection between memory and writing may seem like an obvious point, bu ...more
Dec 14, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2017, nonfiction, memoir
My childhood with its topsy-turvy emotions has, in fact, been a reason to write. I can lay it squarely on the page and see what it was. I can understand it and see the patterns. My characters are witness to what I went through. In each story, we are untangling a knot in a huge matted mess. The work of undoing them one at a time is the most gratifying part of writing, but the mess will always be there.

So, apparently Amy Tan was contractually obligated to provide her new editor, Daniel Halpern a
Kelli Oliver George
Nov 01, 2017 rated it it was ok
Very disjointed and difficult to get interested in. I love Amy Tan, but this was disappointing.
Una Tiers
Sep 05, 2018 rated it really liked it
It was comfortable to read the usual Amy Tan work. Everything revolved around her mother. What I didn't like was the collection of emails.
I hope there will be another book or more.
Dec 05, 2017 rated it it was ok
I am over my infatuation with Amy Tan's work.

There are two things to know:
I have read every Amy Tan book (including the non-fiction, Opposite of Fate) some of them twice!
I don't put books down. I have literally only stopped reading 5 books over the past 5 years! And one of those books was Valley of Amazement. I just couldn't do it.
So here I am, listening to her latest book, a memoir of sorts, with Amy Tan herself reading it...even she sounds bored much of the time!....and I am determined to
Kelly Kittel
Dec 19, 2017 rated it liked it
This is one of those books you read because you respect the author, even while you know that if this was the first book of hers you'd ever read, you would never slog through the whole thing. Nor would you find it particularly interesting. But, because of the relationship that we, the readers, have developed in our one-sided devotion to this Ms. Tan, we persevere.

I did learn many new things about the author and her family that were of interest, again, because they're part of a larger body of wor
Apr 22, 2018 rated it liked it
I'm on a "not so great roll!". I love Amy Tan's writing and the way she wrote this was good, but the content itself was not great. I read her other memoir style book and enjoyed it quite a bit. This was at turns super depressing or felt like a novel length lecture. Nothing felt entertaining.

I'm not saying there's anything wrong with sharing the unhappy details of your life, but the way that she did it left so much to be desired.

I will always read her novels as soon as they are released, but I'm
Luna Rao
Apr 23, 2018 rated it liked it
There are parts of Amy Tan's memoir which soar. She is a teenager in Switzerland, with the remnants of her family after a terrible year of tragedy. I could see her there, her German boyfriend, the cold and clean house, the madness in her mother's eyes. She is an adult tending to her mother's last weeks, praising her beauty, marveling at her grasp of the English language which she thought her mother had lost to dementia. She is in a trance like stage, when she finds reality again she does not rem ...more
Nov 21, 2017 rated it really liked it
LOVED Tan's writing in this memoir. This was the first time I read non-fiction from her. I was surprised that she commented on such diverse topics like drawing vs. writing and science research. I also really enjoyed the humor especially the back and forth between Amy and Daniel Halpern. Overall, the structure of the memoir is like no other I have read but really enjoyed getting to know her better. The somewhat disjointed organization might turn some readers off though
Carol Douglas
Nov 01, 2017 rated it really liked it
I read this book primarily to learn more about novelist Amy Tan, and I did. That was interesting, but the book was not as satisfying as her excellent novels.

The most amazing thing I learned was that her parents were in the US illegally for many years because their student visas had run out. Tan herself just discovered that in recent years. She now sees that was a cloud hanging over her family that was one reason it was so tense.

She tells how her mother often threatened, and sometimes attempted,
Oct 21, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Amy Tan has given us a gift with this book. It is part journal, part diary, part family history with a bit of story-telling tossed in to explain the parts that remain inexplicable all these years later. What parts might those be? Family stories told and re-told that all these years later finally demand attention and in the renewed attention become something other than what they once appeared. Her own mysteries and personal dramas, ferreted out and re-evaluated become different in examination man ...more
Donna Galanti
Nov 16, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: memoir
This is a lyrical and poetic look into Amy Tan's life and how it shaped her as a writer. Much of this book is a quest to understand her past in order to understand herself and her place in the world. I was lucky to see her speak in conversation at the Philadelphia Free Library and meet her and get a signed copy. She spoke as lyrically as she writes - I could have listened to her for another hour. The only part of this book that was disjointed for me and not as enjoyable, were the letters back an ...more
Oct 28, 2017 added it
Shelves: memoir
I love Amy Tan. I especially loved her earlier memoir, "The Opposite of Fate." This one I found a bit slow going in a few places, but I enjoyed reading the background of her family, discovering it as she did. She has a fascinating history, and a beautiful and transparent way of telling us about her mother and father. When she talks about how she writes and the section with email going back and forth with her editor as she wrote her last book were especially enlightening.
Although titled as a memoir this is really a collection of writings from Amy Tan many of which explore her life and the lives of her parents and grandparents, but they are interspersed with musings on the nature of creativity the creative process and how she goes about writing her fiction. There are also a few fictional flights of fancy. As such, some of this book was deeply interesting and moving, and some less so.
Popsugar challenge 2019: A book about a family
Nov 05, 2018 rated it really liked it
In her typically beautiful writing style, Amy Tan exposes the reader to her numerous life events and often times painful memories that helped to shape her writing process. It was very inspiring to learn about all the emotional upheaval the author endured starting at a very early age. This is a very powerful memoir.
Nov 20, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Loved this book. Very fast paced. I learned about her life, and why she writes about what she writes about. Interesting.
Oct 30, 2017 rated it really liked it
This collection of essays, reflections, anecdotes, insights, memos, and notes explores the intersections between the past of memory and interpretation and the language of thought and expression. Tan's language is breathtaking. Her past, shown in images and short sequences, feels so real as to have served as my residence these several days, despite the fact that I've never been to Shanghai, the place that, in many ways, has defined Amy Tan. I've never lived in the household of a wealthy, abusive ...more
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Amy Tan (Chinese: 譚恩美; pinyin: Tán Ēnměi; born February 19, 1952) is an American writer whose works explore mother-daughter relationships and what it means to grow up as a first generation Asian American. In 1993, Tan's adaptation of her most popular fiction work, The Joy Luck Club, became a commercially successful film.

She has written several other books, including The Kitchen God's Wife, The Hun
“Writing is the witness to myself about myself. Whatever others say of me or how they interpret me is a simulacrum of their own devising.” 2 likes
“Memory, in fact, gives you no choice over which moments you can erase, and it is annoyingly persistent in retaining the most painful ones. It is extraordinarily faithful in recording the most hideous details, and it will recall them for you in the future with moments that are even only vaguely similar.” 1 likes
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