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The Hundred Secret Senses Paperback – June 30, 1998

353 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Again grounding her novel in family and the workings of fate, Tan (The Kitchen God's Wife) spins the tale of two sisters, two cultures, and several acts of betrayal. Kwan, who came to San Francisco from China when she was 18, remains culturally disjointed, a good-natured, superstitious peasant with a fierce belief that she has "yin eyes," which enable her to see ghosts. Kwan's younger half-sister Olivia (or Libby-ah, as Kwan calls her) is supremely annoyed by Kwan's habit of conversing with spirits and treats her with disdain. Despite herself, however, Libby is fascinated by the stories Kwan tells of her past lives, during one of which, in the late 1800s, she claims to have befriended an American missionary who was in love with an evil general. Kwan relates this story in installments that alternate with Libby's narration, which stresses her impatience with Kwan's clinging presence. But Kwan's devotion never cools: "She turns all my betrayals into love that needs to be betrayed," Libby muses. When circumstances take Kwan, Libby and Libby's estranged husband, Simon, back to Kwan's native village in China on a magazine assignment, the stories Kwan tells?of magic, violence, love and fate?begin to assume poignant?and dangerous?relevance. In Kwan, Tan has created a character with a strong, indelible voice, whose (often hilarious) pidgin English defines her whole personality. Needy, petulant, skeptical Libby is not as interesting; though she must act as Kwan's foil, demonstrating the dichotomy between imagination and reality, she is less credible and compelling, especially when she undergoes a near-spiritual conversion in the novel's denouement. Indeed, some readers may feel that the ending is less than satisfactory, but no one will deny the pleasure of Tan's seductive prose and the skill with which she unfolds the many-layered narrative. Major ad/promo; BOMC and QPB main selections; author tour.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From School Library Journal

YA?Olivia, the narrator of this story, was born to an American mother and a Chinese father. She meets her 18-year-old Chinese half sister, Kwan, for the first time shortly after their father's death. Kwan adores "Libby-ah" and tries to introduce her to her Chinese heritage through stories and memories. Olivia is embarrassed by her sibling, but finds as she matures that she has inadvertently absorbed much about Chinese superstitions, spirits, and reincarnation. Olivia explains, "My sister Kwan believes she has Yin eyes. She sees those who have died and now dwell in the World of Yin..." Now in her mid-30s, Olivia, a photographer, is still seeking a meaningful life. The climax of the story comes when she and her estranged husband Simeon, a writer, go to China on assignment with Kwan as the interpreter. In the village in which she grew up, Kwan returns to the world of Yin, her mission completed. Olivia finally learns what Kwan was trying to show her: "If people we love die, then they are lost only to our ordinary senses. If we remember, we can find them anytime with our hundred secret senses." The meshing of the contemporary story of Olivia and the tales Kwan tells of her past life in late-19th century China may confuse some readers. Although this story is different from Tan's previous novels because of the supernatural twist, YAs will find some familiar elements.?Carol Clark, R. E. Lee High School, Springfield, VA
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 358 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (June 30, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375701524
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375701528
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (353 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #678,359 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Amy Tan is the author of The Joy Luck Club, The Kitchen God's Wife, The Hundred Secret Senses, The Bonesetter's Daughter, The Opposite of Fate: Memories of a Writing Life, and two children's books, The Moon Lady and Sagwa, which has now been adapted as a PBS production. Tan was also a co-producer and co-screenwriter of the film version of The Joy Luck Club, and her essays and stories have appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies. Her work has been translated into thirty-five languages. She lives with her husband in San Francisco and New York.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

91 of 93 people found the following review helpful By Jessica Lux on May 15, 2005
Format: Mass Market Paperback
I put off other things on my weekend to finish this book because I was so involved in it, and I've been recommending it to other readers since finishing it. This book was more beautiful to me than The Joy Luck Club, but it took me a little longer to get into the book and realize how amazing it was.

The plot is summarized well on Amazon. While reading, I had a little trouble getting into Kwan's Miss Banner previous-lifetime stories. I, like Olivia, thought Kwan was a kooky dreamer. Of course, her stories have a deeper meaning, and I urge you to stick with them so see Tan's beautiful resolution of the relationship between Olivia and Kwan.

In the beginning of the book, I thought Olivia knew herself the best, and that Kwan was just an overly-emotional meddler. As the book progressed, Tan convined me of the depth of Kawn's character, and my feelings about everyone in the novel changed. Tan is a masterful storyteller for taking me in this journey of discovery.

This history of China is well-treated in this novel, and I wanted to learn more about the Taiping Rebellion when I finished. Don't be put off if you don't like historical fiction, though, because I'm not usually a fan, but I found myself entirely wrapped up in this.
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37 of 38 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on February 25, 1998
Format: Mass Market Paperback
I am very fond of JOY LUCK CLUB. I have to think of it as a first class display of wonderful writing. And I really enjoyed KITCHEN GOD'S WIFE which is an excellent example of telling a story. However with THE HUNDRED SECRET SENSES, Amy Tan is aiming at a higher target and is taking a more honest look at herself, at people, at life and at the spiritual nature of humankind than previously. That she sometimes struggles to achieve her aims (and for sure this book is not as smoothly written as JOY LUCK CLUB) and that there are a few areas that could be strengthened, does not give me enough reason to lower my rating of this novel -- for she does what few writers ever do and reaches out for the truth of existence. She has gone from an excellent writer to a special writer, and in doing so enters into a very select group of American writers. In reading THE HUNDERED SECRET SENSES, I wondered if Amy Tan had read any of Philip K Dick's later novels, for I know of no other American author that was so willing to honestly grapple with existential material with such aggressiveness and sensitivity. Forty years from now we may look at this novel as a turning point in Amy Tan's career. She has shown now that she has both the technique as well as the vision to be one of the most important novelists of our time. The Hundred Secret Senses rises above the limits of both THE BAY AREA culture and AMERICAN culture into the realm of serious observation and representation.
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45 of 50 people found the following review helpful By Kelly Budd on April 10, 2001
Format: Paperback
The Hundred Secret Senses starts off very simply, the story of sisters reuniting from extremely different cultures. The sisters are Olivia and Kwan, born of the same father, neither knew each other until Kwan arrives in America as the last dying wish of their father. So the tale begins...
The reader will journey with Kwan through many past lives and her communications to 'yin people'. The yin people are those that have died and communicate to her ~ ghosts. The ever reserved and practical Olivia, finds Kwan's behaviour and beliefs odd and unbelievable.
The Hundred Secret Senses follows the lives of Olivia and Kwan as they create and define their relationship. It is the story of coming to terms with ones self, as well as accepting those around you for who they are. The reader will participate in the great struggle that Olivia has with this challenge.
The reader will be challenged to question their own beliefs of the yin people or the afterlife. I only recently discovered Amy Tan and The Hundred Secret Senses is equally as brilliant as The Bonesetters Daughter. I would recommend this novel!
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23 of 26 people found the following review helpful By BLJLDL on March 9, 2000
Format: Paperback
Amy Tan, who has written many books including the Joy Luck Club, and the childrens book, The Chinese Cat, has once again expressed her story through a Chinese persons eyes. The Hundred Secret Senses is a delightful book full of ides religion, love, death, and lessons in life.
Olivia, the main character and narrator of this tale, begins by telling about the arrival of her half sister Kwan, from China. Kwan is nearly 18 when she comes to the US. She is unable to communicate in English and knows nothing of the American lifestyle. Olivia, her only companion, albeit unwillingly, is soon filled with Chiness folklore, the Chinese language, and ghosts. Yes, Kwan has Yin eyes, or in other words, the ability to see the deceased that have traveled to the Yin World. Even though the whole ghost thing may be a recurring theme, Tan has an interesting way of adding her own twist.
The plot switches back and forth from Olivia, Simon (Olivia's husband), and Kwan, to Kwans growing experiences in her past life, which she can remember. Each time the section ends at a high point, causing you to want to read on, but unlike some novels who use this stratagy to pull you through boring parts, this book is always exiting, thus letting you enjoy every bit of the book.
The style of writing Amy Tan uses is very intriguing and catchy from the start. You keep reading and reading just to find out what happens next. The storyline is so amazing and different that everyone must read it.
The feeling you get when you finish this book is a sense of hope. In a way, the story leaves hanging, and you have to decide for yourself what really happened.
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