The Joy Luck Club | Study Guide

Amy Tan

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Amy Tan | Biography


Amy Tan's fiction isn't very far from her reality. Born on February 19, 1952, to Chinese immigrants John and Daisy Tan, she grew up with two brothers in Oakland, California. She was 15 when her older brother and her father died six months apart as the result of brain tumors. Tan then moved to Switzerland for a few years with the remaining members of her family. She returned to the United States for college, where she studied linguistics. She became a language development specialist and later transitioned to corporate communications.

Bored and burned out by her career, Tan enrolled in a fiction writing workshop in 1985. Her first story was about what she knew best—her family, particularly her mother. Daisy Tan immigrated to the United States in 1949, leaving behind an abusive husband and three daughters in China, whom Amy Tan met on her first trip there in 1987. Daisy's own mother had committed suicide when Daisy was nine, giving rise to the depression that would torment her for years to come. Tan drew upon her mother's experiences as she wrote, trying to answer a question her mother had asked her in the late 1970s; "If I die, what will you remember?"

The original short story didn't get far. It had too many points of view and too many beginnings. "Pick one and start over," a fellow writer advised Tan. She did, and The Joy Luck Club was born. Published in 1989, it spent 43 weeks on The New York Times Bestseller list and was nominated for the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award. Artfully written yet easy to read, it has remained popular ever since its publication, selling millions of copies. Tan cowrote and coproduced the movie version of the same name in 1993.

Tan continues to draw from her family's life experiences to fuel her work, much of which centers around mother-daughter relationships and the immigrant experience. Her second novel, The Kitchen God's Wife, was published in 1991, followed by The Hundred Secret Senses (1995), The Bonesetter's Daughter (2001), Saving Fish from Drowning (2005), and The Valley of Amazement (2013). A collection of personal essays, The Opposite of Fate, was published in 2003.
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