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July 19, 2007

Blog-a-Book: Amy Tan’s ’The Opposite of Fate’

Quill_pen The second section of Tan's book, “Changing the Past,” is largely about Tan’s mother and grandmother, both of whom had very difficult lives. Tan tells of an interviewer who asked her mother whether it was difficult to watch The Joy Luck Club, based loosely on her life. “Oh, no. My real life worser than this, so movie already much, much better.” In fact, recounting the death of her baby son, whose father (“that bad man”) was emotionally and physically abusive, Tan’s mother tells her she thought only, “Good for you, little one, you escaped. Good for you.”

Tan and her brother lived in constant fear that their mother would make good on her frequent threats to commit suicide. They later learned that their mother watched her own mother, a young widow who was raped by and then became a concubine to a wealthy man, commit suicide. Tan then writes: “I recently learned that in China today, a third of all deaths among women in rural areas are suicides. Nationwide, more than two million Chinese women each year attempt suicide, and 300,000 succeed. And in contrast to any other country, more women than men in China kill themselves.” She adds, “China as a society is loath to make shameful events public, so the real number is probably staggeringly higher.”

Tan begins this section with a quote from The Bonesetter’s Daughter, which begins “To the missionaries, we were Girls of New Destiny.” And I can’t help but think of the underground church movement, the missionaries who quietly share their faith while working in China, and those who adopt children from China, and I think of the hope and new destiny they offer to people who were born into a society so oppressive that death often seems the best option.

Lightening the tone, at her mother’s death, Tan writes about the things she will miss: “Who would be frank enough to warn that my husband might exchange me for a younger woman unless I forced him to buy me jewels so expensive it would be impossible for him to leave both me and the gems behind?” Her warning must have worked since Tan and her husband Lou have been married since 1974.

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