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4.6 out of 5 stars36
4.6 out of 5 stars
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on 13 April 2005
The Hundred Secret Senses was my first Amy Tan book, and it's left me wanting more.
Her characters Olivia and Kwan quickly develop into the kind most soap writers would envy; the ones that leave you eager to know what they'll get up to next. While this is happening a magical tale effortlessly unfolds. It's a tale which smoothly links modern American ideals and lifestyles with more old-fashioned ideas, all the time hinting at tenious links with exotic and turbulent Chinese legends.
The story abruptly turns itself around, speeding up the pace when the main characters move to China. From then on the links with the past become increasingly powerful with the lives of present day characters forced to parallel some of those in the past.
Electric shock therapy, reincarnation, marriage breakdown and slaughtering chickens are just some of the topics covered on the way to Amy Tan's breathless yet satisfying conclusion.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on 9 June 2000
I read this book about 3 years ago, and the memories have stayed with me ever since. It moves from past to present day, and keeps you coming back for more. I enjoyed the bits on Chinese culture which has always intrigued me, and the way Amy Tan brings out the inividual personalities of her characters.
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43 of 45 people found the following review helpful
on 6 November 2002
To anyone interested in reading this book, or in fact any other work by Amy Tan - I implore you to make this particular title a must have on your bookshelf at home!
It really is a fantastic story, very heartfelt - and Tan has a unique style of writing which draws you effortlessley into the characters lives at all times. If you choose to go ahead and read the book, you will get to know the characters so well throughout the story that, - once you have finished you will probably be left wondering about them still.
Up until eighteen months ago, I had never heard of Amy Tan, and just happened to pick up a book at work that had been forgotten by someone who had left the company. I started to read it on all breaks, and was engrossed so quickly that I even began to focus more on the story than on my work!
There is so much detail in the book that you can tell straight away how much effort Tan has put into creating it. Never before have I read a book where the authors passion shines through in their work to such a fabulous degree.
Although this is a review, I have made a decision not give away any of the storylines themselves, as it really is too good to be spoiled by an amateur book review. All I will say though is that it is set both in modern day America, and also China - and this gives so many great cultural insights to the reader. I honestly learned quite a lot from this book, as well as just plain well enjoying it!
To sum the book up in three words: - Unique, refreshing and intriguing.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on 11 August 2000
I've now read all three books by Amy Tan, and this one is just as good as the others. She is a wonderful storyteller, who brings alive the relationship between the Chinese and their overseas relatives. This book shifts from past to present, from America to China, from love to hate. Brilliant.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 26 January 2009
I brought this about 15 years ago and despite being a real fiction nerd and an avid fan of Amy Tan's other books I never got around to reading this until recently. I was initially put off by the theme of going into Kwan's past lives and reading the story about Nunumu and Miss Banner which became evident at the start of the book. However, making an effort to put aside my reservations this time around, I began to really enjoy the story, and surprisingly the story did turn out to be integral to the book, and there was a fantastic twist at the end which really brought the two parts together. The book was funny in many parts and sad towards the end, and overall the book was written beautifully, and seemingly effortlessly (like Tan's other novels). The main character of Olivia remind's me of the main characters of Tan's other novels which makes me wonder how much she bases her characters on herself and people in her life. Regardless, her characterization is faultless with a great sense of realism. This book also has that thing that all good novels have, of leaving something behind or staying with you for a while. For me it got me really believing in reincarnation and past spirits, more so than I already felt before reading. Also, the sense conveyed in the book that death is not the end felt pleasantly reassuring, fiction or otherwise. I would have given this five stars but I preferred The Kitchen God's Wife and The Bonesetter's Daughter, however I enjoyed this more than The Joy Luck Club. I would readily recommend this book to anyone.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 12 June 2010
I knew this book would be funny and warm and also that Amy Tan's speciality is quirky characters and their relationships. What I hadn't predicted was the strong thread of a sort of magical realism. You hover between assuming the plot hinges on the perspectives on life of a loveable insane person and wondering if the story is a fairy tale. Even at the end you won't be sure what really happened. Tan is very deft at making you suspend disbelief. If you don't like that sort of plot mix you won't like this book. I do and I did.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 11 September 2006
This is Amy Tan's best book in my opinion. You feel the emotion throughout. I liked that in the end, Kwan is found to be so wise. I need a 'Kwan' in my life I think!
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Amy Tan is a genius at opening the door to the grief of disappointments, betrayals, and seemingly unbreachable ruptures created by generational and cultural differences. She leads you right to the edge of the divide without letting you see that is where she is taking you so that suddenly, you see the gulf stretched out between her characters and you despair for them. You feel their pain as they struggle to understand and to love one another across the divide of differences between them, knowing that it is only through love and understanding that they will find a way to build the necessary bridges.

Tan’s familiar themes are here but while the divides she often writes about are between Chinese mothers and their American born daughters, here the breach is between two half-sisters thrown together by fate and circumstance.

Six-year-old Olivia never asked for a sister but it is her father’s dying wish that Olivia’s mother bring to America his daughter from a previous marriage, who he abandoned in China. To Olivia’s dismay, the sister who arrives from China is not the shy, waif-like, young girl that Olivia imagined; Kwan is a stoutly built, young woman with a full-on, in-your-face personality. Worse, Olivia has to share her room with her and Kwan keeps her awake at night, telling stories from the past and telling Olivia about the dead people who Kwan sees and speaks with. Kwan has ying-eyes, a rare gift which means she can see and speak to people who have died.
Kwan swears Olivia to secrecy but Olivia betrays her secret. Kwan is sent away for a while, to be treated for madness (society is just as guilty of the inability to understand and respect the beliefs of different cultures). The guilt Olivia feels on discovering that Kwan was subjected to electric shock treatments while away only serves to fuel Olivia’s resentment at having this sister she never asked for thrust on her.
Consequently, even when she grows up, Olivia does not come to appreciate Kwan for who she is; the most loveable, loving, unique, and generous sister any could wish to have.

There is a scene in the book which demonstrates the great skill of Amy Tan’s writing- the ability to portray oceans of meaning in a gesture. This one scene reveals the essence of Olivia’s relationship with Kwan; it takes place on Kwan’s fiftieth birthday. Olivia ‘forgets’ until the last moment, guaranteeing she will turn up late and without a suitable gift. She roots around in the bottoms of drawers and lands upon a cheap soap dish she’d bought years ago and never used. Thus, she lets Kwan know that no thought or love went into the gift. She manages to wholly reject Kwan’s importance in her life while telling herself it was no more than forgetfulness on her part. The gesture epitomises Olivia’s attitude towards Kwan.

The significance of Kwan’s importance in Olivia’s life becomes more apparent as the story unfolds. Olivia has to cross continents (on a trip to China with Kwan) before she understands who Kwan really is and how deeply their fates are linked.
In this novel, Amy Tan not only succeeds in bridging the divide between cultures but also the spiritual and physical world. It may be a bridge too far for some but I found it utterly convincing, deeply moving and inspiring.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 29 July 1999
How can you justify such a brilliant book? From the first paragraph I was hooked. The way haunting characters and stories from traditional China found their way into the hard hitting modern world is what I admire most, and, of course, the addictive way in which Kwan related whole past lives and dreams. Funny in some parts, but something in the way it was written was tragical and touching, too. Many tears had fallen on the pages before I was finished, and that wasn't long.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 17 October 2007
Another brilliant novel from Amy Tan. I loved the characters of Olivia and Kwan and was eager to learn more about them as I read. I have to mention though that although I like the concept of Yin- the afterlife/reincarnation I found the interludes through the story with General Cope and Miss Banner difficult,even though I appreciated they were an important part of the whole in regard to the difference in American and Chinese cultures. I recommend this highly.
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