A collection of essays, many autobiographical. If you’re interested in Amy Tan and writing, this is a must-read. If you dislike her fiction, I hesitate to recommend this; the style and most of the topics not focused on writing are quite similar. I do generally like her fiction and I am interested in writing, so I enjoyed this.

A number of the most powerful and poignant stories focus on her remarkably eventful and often traumatic life, the equally eventful and traumatic life of her mother, and their difficult relationship. (Difficult is putting it mildly: when Tan was a teenager, her mother, who was frequently suicidal, held a cleaver to Tan’s throat.) I hadn’t realized quite how autobiographical some of her fiction was until I read this book.

I also enjoyed most of the pieces on writing. Tan is quite funny about detailing the neurosis-beset life of the writer. In more serious matters, she has several essays about the expectations put on her as a Chinese-American writer (she dislikes the term “writer of color”), both from white people and from people of color. Her essays on the matter are heartfelt and worth reading even if you totally disagree with some or all of her opinions, which are too complex to summarize here.

The last essay, about a mysterious chronic illness she develops which causes a cascade of horrifying symptoms which eventually include hallucinations, is both a compelling medical detective story and a good conclusion to the book, though I was not fond of her attempt to pull in 9/11, which occurred at the same time. (Moral: if no one knows what’s wrong with you and you have bizarre symptoms, online research is the next best thing to Dr. House.)

Like most essay collections, there’s some randomness and a couple of pieces that could have been dropped with no harm to the book. But it’s a strong collection overall.

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