• Carmen Milligan

American Masters: Amy Tan

Readers, I started watching an episode last night of PBS's American Masters on author Amy Tan. What. A. Story. Tan and her two brothers were first-generation Americans, born to immigrants from China, who came to America to flee the Chinese Civil War. Her father was a Baptist preacher, but Tan's mother forced him to go back to an engineering job because the family of a preacher meant a life of poverty.


To make a long story short, and to encourage you to watch this episode yourself, I will summarize. Amy Tan's maternal grandmother committed suicide. Amy's older brother, Peter, died in his teens of a brain tumor. Amy's father was in the hospital when Peter died, having just been diagnosed with his own brain tumor. Tan's mother, Daisy, thought the family was cursed, and moved Amy and her younger brother, John, to the Netherlands. While there, Amy's mother tried to kill her with a meat cleaver. Daisy threatened again and again to commit suicide if she felt a lack of respect from her children, which, in her mental state, was often. She tried a few times to kill herself, unsuccessfully.


There's more, but this sets the stage.


That life experience is the one residing inside this author. This is what swirls through her veins, fires between the synapses in her brain, and forces its tap root deep into her soul. It is no wonder that three of her novels deal with a Chinese immigrant mother to an American-born daughter. It must be almost impossible to sit at the typewriter and have a volcano full of the magma of experience, emotion, and memory not erupt into a lava full of these things, sliding down onto the page.


And her stories are beautiful. They are told from a perspective that I didn't understand until now. Knowing that the author is presenting her stories, her creations, from this history makes the pages that much sweeter for me. It has been several decades since I have read her first three books, and I plan to reread them (something I very rarely do). And as I read them anew, I will have a much deeper appreciation for the artist who wrote them.

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