Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 363
The Hundred Secret Senses is a 1995 fictional novel written by Chinese American writer Amy Tan. It is a tale of two sisters, two spouses, and two cultures. The book explores themes such as: family relationships, sisterhood, identity, love and friendship, empathy, sorrow, cultural differences, and ghosts and reincarnation. The book received great commercial success, mainly because of its entertaining narrative, its compassionate and well-developed characters, and its witty and often humorous rhetoric. However, it also gained a bit of criticism for its predictable plot.
The story follows Olivia Laguni, an educated Chinese American photographer who lives in San Francisco. We learn that when she was younger, she discovered that she has a sister, Kwan, who comes from rural China. She moves in with Olivia, to honor their late father’s wishes. Kwan changes Olivia’s life forever. At first, their love is one-sided, as the talkative and optimistic Kwan adores her half-sister from the very start. Olivia, however, feels embarrassed that Kwan is now a part of her family, mainly because Kwan claims that she has “yin eyes”, or she has the ability to see and talk to the spirits who live in the Yin World. Olivia isn’t sure if this is a figment of Kwan’s wild imagination, or a symptom of a mental illness.
As they grow older, Olivia slowly begins to appreciate and accept her half-sister, and even respect her beliefs and values. She begins to believe in her superstitions, especially when her marriage to her estranged husband, Simon, starts to crumble. Thus, the three of them go on a trip to China—to Kwan’s hometown of Chang Mian. This is actually a plot by Kwan to fix their marriage. There, Olivia learns that all of Kwan’s ghost stories about past lives and reincarnation are true, thus finally acknowledging her sister, and reconnecting with her husband as well.
Alongside Olivia, we learn that we are not limited by our five senses. Instead, we can communicate with whomever we want, and appreciate the spiritual nature of all things and discover the meaning of our souls, if we only open our mind and engage our one hundred secret senses.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1901
Olivia Yee Bishop, daughter of a Chinese father and an Anglo American mother, is a cold and unhappy woman who is separated from Simon Bishop, her husband and business partner. She agrees to a travel assignment in China at the urging of her half-sister Kwan, who wants to visit her aunt in the village of Changmian, where she grew up. Kwan did not come to the United States until long after their dying father confessed to Olivia’s mother that he had a daughter in China; upon her arrival, she was met with jealousy and fear from Olivia, twelve years her junior. Now Olivia suspects rightly that Kwan is using the proposed journey as an excuse to bring her together with Simon. In fact, two relationships are at stake here: that of Olivia and Simon and, more important, that of Olivia and Kwan.
Like The Joy Luck Club (1989) and The Kitchen God’s Wife (1991), The Hundred Secret Senses visits Amy Tan’s familiar ground—the dual settings of the United States and China, a protagonist struggling with two disparate cultures. Here, present events are paralleled by Kwan’s account of her previous life as Nunumu, a one-eyed maiden of the Hakka, a northern Chinese people who migrated to the southern mountains. Nunumu saves the life of and becomes a companion to Miss Banner, an American who has attached herself to a group of English missionaries in Changmian during the Taiping Rebellion (1851-1864). Miss Banner is in love with a self-styled American general whom the Chinese call “General Cape.”
In addition to Kwan’s tales...
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