A life stranger than fiction

I have always loved books about Eastern culture, whether modern or historical, fact, fiction or fantasy. So I found this Telegraph  interview with Amy Tan interesting, as she talks about her inspiration for her novels (my favourite of hers so far is Saving Fish from Drowning), and in particular her latest title, The Valley of Amazement. Her books usually feature a combination of modern and historical aspects, focusing particularly on the role of women, and relationships between female family members that can sometimes be strained due to the culture clash between East and West.

The Valley of Amazement

Somehow, in the beginning of her career she didn’t think that her own family history would make very interesting reading – she thought she would have to “make it all up.” But she was soon encouraged to find her own, authentic voice.

“I realised I was able to take my own family’s past and put that into my stories without using any specific details. I was so excited by what I was learning about myself that I decided it didn’t really matter whether I ever got published – this, in itself, was worth it.”

To me, Tan’s family past makes very intriguing reading – from her Grandmother who committed suicide by swallowing raw opium buried in rice cakes, to her mother who fled China and left her three other daughters behind, not seeing them again for 30 years. And it seems now Tan has discovered that her Grandmother might also have been a courtesan – a fact that changed the course of her latest novel.

“The book started off quite differently. It took a huge turn when I came across a photograph at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco. I was taken aback to read that the costumes were very specific to courtesans.”

The Valley of Amazement will be another title to add to my To Read pile, I think.


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