For author Amy Tan, it is her relationships that have influenced her foundation for her writing.
The relationships between Tan and her parents, readers, language, faith and fate made five of her books best-sellers.
The John V. Roach Honors College put on a Q-and-A with Tan exclusively for honors students as part of the annual Fogelson Honors Forum Tuesday in Milton Daniel. The Q-and-A gave students an opportunity to ask Tan questions and hear her read from her memoir “The Opposite of Fate.”
Tan grew up with a dad who was an ordained Baptist Minister and a mother who told her gory stories, which she said inspired her when she wrote. In her childhood, she would read the Bible and loved the more grotesque parts of the stories, like when David killed Goliath. Tan’s mother told her gory stories that consisted of warnings of things that she had actually seen and experienced.
It was these kinds of stories that led Tan to love fairy tales as well. “Jane Eyre” is one of Tan’s favorite romances because she could relate to Jane throughout the story. Books that were banned, like “Catcher in the Rye,” also inspired Tan’s writing. It was the books that Tan was not allowed to read that she always bought no matter how many times she got sent to counseling with the youth minister or how many times she had to go out and buy the book, Tan said.
Tan wrote about mother-daughter relationships in her books not to give her opinion about the subject but to figure out who she was and what she believed, Tan said. Many of Tan’s beliefs had come from her mother, so to distinguish her own beliefs from her mother’s, Tan had to figure out what she believed in and why things happened.
Tan’s integration of Chinese words into her English novels was influenced by her relationship with her mother. Tan keeps some words in Chinese to add emphasis to her writing and because some words have always been said in Chinese, Tan said. They are the words her mother would use and Tan considers them iconic.
Tan also keeps these words to help with the idea of language as an identity. Tan said that using Chinese to help describe imagery throughout her books is something that she feels very lucky to be able to do.
“I am very lucky that I have been able to have a bilingual background,” Tan said. “There are sociolinguistic qualities of language that are not translatable.”
It is these words that are not translatable that have helped Tan express herself in her writings.
One relationship that Tan has struggled with in her career is the relationship between her and her readers. Some people who read her books will generalize her writing and assume that her representation of Asian culture is the only one.
“If my books and literature in general [are] seen as representative, it can be dangerous because it can create warped images of that culture,” Tan said.
Faith versus fate is another relationship that Tan has struggled with but has also influenced Tan’s writing. With her father’s emphasis on faith, because of his background in ministry and her mother’s emphasis on fate caused Tan to question the two ideas constantly, even to this day. Tan found herself questioning these two ideas when something bad happens in her life. In Tan’s books, she uses her own and the character’s reasonings of why things happen to express the conflict that these two ideas bring.
The New York Times best-sellers by Amy Tan:
The Joy Luck Club
The Kitchen God’s Wife
The Hundred Secret Senses
The Bonesetter’s Daughter
Saving Fish from Drowning