Amy Tan, Author . Putnam $24.95 (398p) ISBN 978-0-399-15074-6

Tan's bestselling works of fiction are, in part, based on her own family history, and this robust book, her first nonfiction effort, explains much about where those stories came from and how they influenced her. The collection of "casual pieces" (previously published in such diverse venues as Harper's Bazaar, Ski Magazine, the New Yorker, and even PW) covers Tan's childhood in California and Switzerland; her writing career; her relationships with her mother and her late editor, Faith Sale; and, most significantly, the role of fate in her life. Raised with "two pillars of beliefs" (Christian faith on her father's side; Chinese fate on her mother's), Tan finds luck—both good and bad—in all corners of her life. Ultimately, however, she knows "a higher power knows the next move and... we are at the mercy of that force." As she reflects on how things have happened in her 50-odd years, Tan's writing varies from poetic to prosaic. In an excerpt from a journal she kept during a 1990 trip to China, she eloquently describes Shanghai's streets: "Gray pants and white shirts are suspended from long bamboo poles that overhang the street. The laundry flaps in the wind like proletarian banners." But reading about Tan's adventures with her rock band, the Rock Bottom Remainders, feels a bit like reading someone else's high school yearbook's inside jokes, as she reminisces about truck-stop breakfasts and late-night sing-alongs. Still, this is a powerful collection that should enthrall readers of The Joy Luck Club and Tan's other novels. B&w photos. Agent, Sandy Dijkstra. (Nov.)

Reviewed on: 09/15/2003
Release date: 11/01/2003
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