Amy Tan •
The Hundred Secret Senses •
With each book, Amy Tan proves anew what a captivating storyteller she is.
History, folklore, and the supernatural swirl through The Hundred Secret Senses like smoke rising from joss sticks. Olivia, born in the United States, resents the older half-sister, Kwan, who comes from China after their father dies. “The worst part was sharing my bedroom with her . . . She pushed her Chinese secrets into my brain and changed how I thought about the world. Soon I was even having nightmares in Chinese.”
Kwan has what she calls “yin eyes”—the ability to see and converse with spirits. “Don’t say ghost,” she reproaches Olivia. “To them this like racist word.” For Kwan, everyone down to the family dog is a reincarnation from a past life.
Olivia’s exasperation with her sister continues into adulthood. “It makes me want to laugh and scream at the same time, hearing her version of the pleasures of the afterlife described as amateur restaurant reviewing.” Even Olivia’s marriage is invaded by the spirit realm: Her husband’s dead fiancée continues to cast a shadow, and the walls of their house harbor spectral noises.
When Olivia and Kwan travel to China together, the cold-water reality of a remote village collides with Kwan’s fanciful tales of music boxes, caves, and pickled duck eggs. Or did General Cape, Miss Banner, and Dr. Too Late really exist long ago?
“Spine chills and musky smells, goose bumps and blushing cheeks” make up the vocabulary of the secret senses, extending a bridge between living and dead. “Memory, seeing, hearing, feeling, all come together, then you know something true in your heart,” says Kwan. “You die, that’s not end story. That only mean story not finish.”