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« Live from Toronto: He Has a Firm Handshake | Main | Blog-a-Book: Considering the "Now" vs. the "Not Yet" »

July 09, 2007

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

Quill_pen My decision to blog Amy Tan’s book The Opposite of Fate: Memories of a Writing Life was only natural. After all, I know so much about Tan. I know she is the author of a wildly successful novel, which I have never read, which was made into a very successful movie, which I have never seen. I think it was about Chinese women and I’m pretty sure it was written in English. Oh, and I know Tan is in a rock band with Stephen King and Dave Barry. That alone should make her book worth reading.

Despite my woeful ignorance of (according to the back cover) “one of the world’s best-loved novelists,” reading the introduction and first section of the book “Fate and Faith,” I feel already like Tan and I could be friends. In fact, I think I’ll call her Amy. I love Amy’s sense of humor, the groan-worthy puns, the irony, the sarcasm. She just sounds like a fun person who would hang out at Panera with my writing friends.

In “the cliffsnotes version of my life,” Amy is shocked to discover that her book The Joy Luck Club has attained the status of having its own Cliff’s Notes booklet. In Cliff, she reads nonsense about the hidden depth and messages of her novel, making her (and me) wonder how Cliff’s other subjects would react if they read his version of their great works. She then gives us the real Cliff’s Notes of her early years.

Both her parents were originally from China, but their backgrounds were very different. Her father was a Christian, the son and grandson of Chinese evangelists, who carried his faith close to his heart until his death. Her mother held onto more traditional Eastern beliefs in fate, ghosts, and reincarnation. Amy straddled these two worlds until her father died when she was still young, after which her spiritual world revolved around manipulating Ouija boards for her mother’s enlightenment.

Amy writes: “These days I realize that faith and fate have similar effects on the believer. They suggest that a higher power knows the next move and that we are at the mercy of that force.” I think this is true and that one of the main differences between the Christian faith and fatalistic religions is that in Christ we have a God who is not only above us, but who became one of us. The incarnation means that we have a God who loves us fiercely (why else would He leave the majesty of heaven and enter our messy world, especially for the purpose for which He came?) and who understands our frailty. Because of that, we can trust in His goodness and beneficence.

In “a question of fate,” Amy tells us how she became a writer. After a friend is murdered, she begins to dream of him, not ordinary dreams, but dreams where he is giving her wisdom that has direct application to her present life. On his apparitional advice, she leaves her academic career and takes a job with disabled children where she “sensed the limitlessness of hope within the limits of human beings. I learned to have compassion. It was the best training I could have had for becoming a writer.” After trying to rationalize the dreams as the product of her sub-conscious, Amy concludes, “Today I am neither a believer nor a skeptic. I am a puzzler.” Does that make her a “seeker” in evangelical terminology?

When I picked this book from Lori’s list I thought it might be a fun book for me to read as a writer, but I really wasn’t sure how it was going to tie in with a blog on Christian worldview. So I am pleasantly surprised that we are talking about matters of faith right off the bat. Will it continue? Will we get to go on tour with the Rock Bottom Remainders? Will we have to stop calling her “Amy”? Stay tuned next week. If you are reading along, next week I’ll be blogging on section two in the book, “Changing the Past.”

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