Discussion Topics

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Discuss the significance of fate, luck, and choice in Amy Tan’s works.

What sort of conflicts arise between mothers and daughters in Tan’s books, and how can those conflicts be healed? Are they always the product of cultural differences?

In what ways have some of Tan’s characters been effectively silenced? How do they overcome this?

What techniques does Tan use to make her characters come to life? Do you agree that her Chinese characters are more memorable? Why or why not?

Some readers have complained about the one-dimensional quality of Tan’s male characters. Do you find any exceptions?

In all of her work, Tan seems to suggest that a knowledge of the past or of family history is essential to one’s well-being. Do you agree?

Is Tan’s use of humor and violence effective? Why or why not?

Other Literary Forms

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Also considered a novel, Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club has been translated into twenty languages. Her second novel The Kitchen God’s Wife was a Booklist editor’s choice. Her third novel is The Hundred Secret Senses (1995). She wrote two children’s books, The Moon Lady (1992) and The Chinese Siamese Cat (1994). Her essays include “The Language of Discretion” and “Mother Tongue.”


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The Joy Luck Club was a finalist for the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award. Amy Tan cowrote (with Ronald Bass) the screenplay for a film based on the novel, released in 1993. Her essay “Mother Tongue” was included in Best American Essays of 1991, edited by Joyce Carol Oates. She received an honorary doctorate (Litterarum Humaniorum Doctor) from Dominican College in 1991.

Other literary forms

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Although she is best known for her novels, Amy Tan has also published short essays, short stories, and two children’s books—The Moon Lady (1992) and The Chinese Siamese Cat (1994). In addition, Tan cowrote the screenplay for the 1993 film adaptation of her novel The Joy Luck Club, and in 2003 she published a memoir, The Opposite of Fate: A Book of Musings.


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Amy Tan is one of the best-known and most popular Asian American writers and, like Maxine Hong Kingston, is considered a guide to the landscape of the Asian American experience. Gracing the best-seller lists and translated into thirty-five languages, Tan’s novels have earned critical and popular acclaim; The Joy Luck Club was made into a major motion picture. Tan won the Commonwealth Gold Award and the Bay Area Book Reviewers Award for The Joy Luck Club, which was also nominated for the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award. Three of her works have been included on The New York Times “Notable Books” list, two have been Booklist Editors Choices, and two—The Hundred Secret Senses and The Bonesetter’s Daughter—were nominated for the Orange Prize for Fiction; The Hundred Secret Senses was a finalist for that prize.

Tan’s novels contribute to the dialogue about the meanings of “Asian” and “American” by portraying the intercultural conflict threatening many Asian American immigrant families. Her strong storytelling ability ensures the accessibility of her fiction to general readers; moreover, her work appeals to feminist readers and critics because, as Sau-ling Cynthia Wong has pointed out, Tan’s novels belong to significant “discursive traditions,” including “mainstream feminist writing; Asian American matrilineal literature; quasi ethnography about the Orient; Chinese American ’tour-guiding’ works.”


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Benanni, Ben, ed. Paintbrush: A Journal of Poetry and Translation 22 (Autumn, 1995). This is a special issue of the journal focusing on Tan and on The Joy Luck Club in particular. It includes articles on mothers and daughters, memory and forgetting.

Bloom, Harold, ed. Amy...

(This entire section contains 542 words.)

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Tan. Philadelphia: Chelsea House, 2000. Bloom also provides an introduction to the installment in the Modern Critical Views series. Pulls together the comments of contemporary critics.

Cheung, King-Kok. An Interethnic Companion to Asian American Literature. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1997. An essay collection with a critical overview of Asian American literary studies. Most interesting to readers of Tan’s novels are essays by Sau-ling Cynthia Wong, Shirley Geok-lin Lim, Jinqi Ling, and Donald Geollnicht.

Cooperman, Jeannette Batz. The Broom Closet: Secret Meanings of Domesticity in Postfeminist Novels by Louise Erdrich, Mary Gordan, Toni Morrison, Marge Piercy, Jane Smiley, and Amy Tan. New York: Peter Lang, 1999. A study of the role of traditionally feminine concerns, such as marriage and family, in the works of these postfeminist writers.

Ho, Wendy. In Her Mother’s House: The Politics of Asian American Mother-Daughter Writing. Walnut Creek, Calif.: AltaMira Press, 1999. Includes two chapters dedicated specifically to Tan, “Losing Your Innocence But Not Your Hope: Amy Tan’s Joy Luck Mothers and Coca-Cola Daughters,” and “The Heart Never Travels: The Incorporation of Fathers in the Mother-Daughter Stories of Maxine Hong Kingston, Amy Tan, and Fae Myenne Ng.”

Huh, Joonok. Interconnected Mothers and Daughters in Amy Tan’s ‘The Joy Luck Club.’ Tucson, Ariz.: Southwest Institute for Research on Women, 1992. Examines the mother and adult child relationship in Tan’s novel. Includes a bibliography.

Huntley, E. D. Amy Tan: A Critical Companion. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1998. Discusses Tan’s biography and analyzes her novels in the context of Asian American literature. Analyzes major themes such as the crone figure, food, clothing, language, biculturalism, mothers and daughters. Includes useful bibliography.

Lim, Elaine. Asian American Literature: An Introduction to the Writings and Their Social Context. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1982. The first critical guide to Asian American literature, Lim’s book is an essential introduction to the historical and literary contexts of Tan’s work.

Ling, Amy. Between Worlds: Women Writers of Chinese Ancestry. New York: Pergamon, 1990. A chronological and thematic introduction to prose narratives in English by American women of Chinese or partial Chinese ancestry. Includes an extensive annotated bibliography of prose by Chinese American women.

Pearlman, Mickey, and Katherine Usher Henderson. “Amy Tan.” Inter/View: Talks with America’s Writing Women. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1990. Provides biographical information on Tan, revealing the sources of some of the stories in The Joy Luck Club.

Snodgrass, Mary Ellen. Amy Tan: A Literary Companion. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 2004. Replete with tools for further research, including study questions, an extensive bibliography, and a glossary of Chinese terms found in Tan’s works, Snodgrass presents a readable, engaging introduction to both Tan’s life and works.

Tan, Amy. “Amy Tan.” Interview by Barbara Somogyi and David Stanton. Poets and Writers 19, no. 5 (September 1, 1991): 24-32. One of the best interviews with Tan. Tan speaks about her childhood and her early career as a business writer, her decision to write fiction, her success with The Joy Luck Club, and some of its autobiographical elements.


Critical Essays