The Hundred Secret Senses

The Hundred Secret Senses

by Amy Tan


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The "wisest and most captivating novel" (Boston Globe) from the author of the bestselling The Valley of Amazement and the new memoir Where the Past Begins

Set in San Francisco and in a remote village of Southwestern China, Amy Tan's The Hundred Secret Senses is a tale of American assumptions shaken by Chinese ghosts and broadened with hope. In 1962, five-year-old Olivia meets the half-sister she never knew existed, eighteen-year-old Kwan from China, who sees ghosts with her "yin eyes." Decades later, Olivia describes her complicated relationship with her sister and her failing marriage, as Kwan reveals her story, sweeping the reader into the splendor and violence of mid-nineteenth century China. With her characteristic wisdom, grace, and humor, Tan conjures up a story of the inheritance of love, its secrets and senses, its illusions and truths.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780143119081
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 12/28/2010
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 368
Sales rank: 105,676
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.90(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

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, Saving Fish from Drowning, and two children’s books, The Moon Lady and The Chinese Siamese Cat, which has been adapted as Sagwa, a PBS series for children. Tan was also the 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 more than twenty-five languages. Tan, who has a master’s degree in linguistics from San Jose University, has worked as a language specialist to programs serving children with developmental disabilities. She lives with her husband in San Francisco and New York.


San Francisco, California and New York, New York

Date of Birth:

February 19, 1952

Place of Birth:

Oakland, California


B.A., San Jose State University, 1973; M.A., 1974

What People are Saying About This

Michiko Katukani

Ms. Tan has . . . injected a large dose of supernatural whimsy into her story in an effort to explore the connections between the generations. The results are decidedly mixed: a contemporary tale of familial love and resentment, nimbly evoked in Ms. Tan's guileless prose, and unfortunately overlaid by another, more sensational tale of reincarnation that undermines the reader's trust. . . -- The New York Times

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The Hundred Secret Senses 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 95 reviews.
MissPrint More than 1 year ago
While Amy Tan is an amazingly talented writer with a lot of great books under her belt, she is arguably most well known as the author of The Joy Luck Club, which I have yet to read. I did, however, read The Hundred Secret Senses (originally published in 1996) not once but twice. I almost never do that because the second reading just feels boring. However, that wasn't the case with this book because it was so enjoyable and rich that rereading felt more like visiting old friends than rehashing something I already knew. While on the subject of this novel's freshness, it bears mention that some reviewers suggested The Hundred Secret Senses was little more than a rehash of previous, very similar, plots from her earlier books. Obviously, I can't speak for The Joy Luck Club but I did read The Kitchen God's Wife which had a similar theme but in my view an entirely different plot. I also happened to think this novel was the markedly better of the two. Olivia's mother is American, her father Chinese. She comes from a "traditional American family." At least for the most part. At the age of eighteen, Kwan entered the lives of Olivia (then four) and her family from her native China. Nothing about Kwan is American from her accent to her belief that she has yin eyes to see "those who have died and now dwell in the World of Yin, ghosts who leave the mists just to visit her kitchen on Balboa Street in San Francisco." These ghosts are not only a fundamental part of the story but one of the main reasons Olivia can never truly get along with her older sister. For a while, it seems like Olivia will be able to ignore Kwan's eccentricities and lead her own, American, life. But the more Olivia hears, the more Kwan's old ghosts stories intrigue her. Their enticement grows when Olivia unexpectedly finds herself traveling to China with her husband, Simon, and Kwan for a magazine assignment. As the three navigate Kwan's childhood stomping grounds, surprising connections are made between the threesome and, amazingly, with one of Kwan's ghost stories. The novel chronicles Olivia's relationship with Kwan as well as her early courtship and eventual estrangement from Simon. At the same time, in alternating chapters, The Hundred Secret Senses tells the story of one of Kwan's past lives in China during the 1800s--a dramatic love story closely tied to Kwan's (and Olivia's) present lives. Tan's prose here is conversational and enticing, feeling like a friend telling a particularly juicy story at dinner or over the phone. The connections between past, present and the very distant past is seamless creating a tight narrative that, by the end of the book, weaves all aspects of the story together in a neat package. At the same time, The Hundred Secret Senses offers an interesting commentary on assimilation and multi-cultuarism with both Olivia and Simon being half-white and half-Chinese. Although Olivia might be too old to say she comes of age in this novel, it would be fair to say she learns to accept her own identity by the novel's completion. While all of that makes for a dynamo on its own, my favorite aspect of this book is the way in which it deals with family relations both romantically (with Olivia and Simon) and otherwise (with Olivia and Kwan). The story ends with an optimism that suggests, if you are willing to see them, loved ones are never very far away.
steveiewoolf More than 1 year ago
American Chinese Olivia Laguni finds out she has an older Chinese half sister, Kwan Li, after her father’s death bed confession to her mother.  From initially being excited about the prospect of having a sister the six year olds excitement soon evaporates and turns into embarrassment and resentment of her mangled English speaking sister. This embarrassment is compounded by Kwan’s belief that she can see and talk to dead people in the World of Yin. Interwoven with Olivia’s story of her life in San Francisco are the stories told by Kwan of her former life in China.  The sisters are the narrators, with Olivia being the primary one. The main body of the novel has Olivia relating her life in San Francisco between the 1960s and the 1990s. As Olivia grows up she continues to be embarrassed by her half sister Kwan who is twelve years older than Olivia. Kwan’s broken English and her lack of knowledge of American ways creates a climate of bullying and teasing for Olivia as other children perceive Kwan to be a ‘retard’. This childhood trauma and subsequent dislike and resentment of Kwan bleeds through to Olivia’s adulthood and is exacerbated by Kwan’s interference in Olivia’s relationship with her partner Simon. Kwan, however, unreservedly loves her little sister even when it transpires that because of Olivia, Kwan is sent to a mental hospital due to her belief that she can see dead people.  During Olivia’s childhood Kwan tells her ‘ghost stories’. Stories of the dead people she sees. These stories continue into adulthood and in addition Kwan recounts stories of her past lives.  Convolutedly, Kwan, Olivia and Simon visit China and in particular where Kwan grew up.  The author of bestseller The Joy Luck Club, Amy Tan, has crafted an ornate, chiaroscuro like piece of work with The Hundred Secret Senses. The novel is about America and China, life and death, cultural incongruities and the difficulty of filial devotion to one’s siblings. However, fundamentally the novel is about relationships; the relationship between married couples, siblings, parents and their children and the most difficult relationship we all face, between the living and the dead. Amy Tan handles all these issues with adroit aplomb. 
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I read this book years ago and i loved it so much i kept the book to read again, which is something i never do!
shieldwolf on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Chinese-American Olivia Laguni's life is changed by her nemesis and half-sister, Kwan Li, whose haunting predictions and implementation of the secret senses link their family's struggles to the challenges of their ancestors.
lyzadanger on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I tore through this. Because of this, my first thought was, hey, this must be patsy chick drivel, because it's really easy to read. It's smacks of the mid-nineties setting it lives in and the protagonist is an whining, typical self-stylized photographer with hostility about her childhood and ambivalence about her Chinese-American heritage.But then I realized that the reason it is so quick to read is that it is very, very interesting. The rhythm is built with two interlaced storylines (nothing too new here), one the present day and the other a quasi-mythical romp through 19th Century rural China. Tan's storytelling craft, especially with the Chinese portions, is honed. The plot is at times trying (separated couple soul-searching as to whether they should get back together again; house-shopping in San Francisco), most of it is compelling, with, if not blatant twists, interesting curves.And I'm loathe to admit it, but the plot/emotional denouement at the end got me. I stayed up late into the night and savored it.
KinnicChick on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a story within a story. Kwan is the daughter of main character Olivia's father who they only learn about when he is dying. He had her when he was a young man in China before immigrating to the US when the opportunity came up. His young wife had already tragically died so he left Kwan with his sister-in-law there and promised that he would return for her when he could. The chance never presented itself before his death, but his wife in the new country promised him on his death bed that she would bring the (now almost adult) child to the US and raise Kwan as her own, with her other three children. Olivia believed this new sister was coming to replace her. But all Kwan (who looked nothing like the skinny baby photo their father had carried with him all of those years) ever wanted was love and loyalty from her little sister and that's what she provided Libby-ah. This is not a linear story. For Kwan has yin eyes. She can see dead people. She remembers her own past life with some of these yin people who are around her now and she tells Libby-ah stories of the past and of the yin people. This is a book rich in character, place and history. I first heard portions of it as an audiobook several years ago on a family vacation and still had that voice and those accents in my head as I read. It provided more of the flavor, I think. I've had it on my bookshelves because i knew I would read it some day. Orange January gave me the perfect opportunity. I highly recommend this book to every one. Amy Tan is a genius. :)
jedisluzer on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is my favorite Amy Tan.
chmessing on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Really liked this one. If Amy Tan's other books are this good, it looks like I've got some more books to add to my "to read" list!
bookheaven on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Interesting and different
cestovatela on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Amy Tan apparently only has one story in her: child loses parent with whom they had a troubled relationship, discovers lost relatives in China. It was moderately entertaining the first two times; now it's just stale.
zibilee on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Olivia was born to a Chinese father and American mother and has lived all her life in San Fransisco. Her father passes away while she¿s still young, but not before telling her mother he was married before and fathered a child in China. As his dying wish, he asks Olivia¿s mother to find this child and bring her to America. Soon Olivia¿s half-sister, Kwan, is living with the family, but she¿s not what you would call normal by Chinese nor American standards. Kwan claims to have yin eyes, a condition that allows her to see and speak with the ghosts of the departed, and also to have had some very interesting past lives which she shares in detail with Olivia over and over again. Olivia doesn¿t much like Kwan, and the two sisters never manage to have the close relationship that Kwan so hopes for. Olivia is also having problems of a different kind, for she is going through a divorce from Simon, a man whom she once loved but now can¿t stop arguing with. Though Kwan tries to push Olivia and Simon back together over and over again, it¿s only when the three agree to go to China for a visit to Kwan¿s old home that Simon, Olivia and Kwan discover each other again and realize the fateful place they all share in one another¿s lives. Part family drama and part ghost story, The Hundred Secret Senses is Amy Tan at her best, once again telling a story that is nestled somewhere between China and America.I¿ve long been a fan of Amy Tan¿s work and have read just about everything she¿s ever published. I originally read this book many years ago but had pretty much lost whatever insights I had on it over time. When the opportunity came to review the book, I jumped at it, because who could refuse a stay in Tan¿s lush and wonderful world once again. As I read, little bits of the book came back to me, but I have to admit that most of it took me by surprise, which was just what I had been hoping would happen. Though this is not my favorite of Tan¿s books (that honor would go to The Kitchen God¿s Wife) I did have an excellent time rereading this one. Tan is a master at creating the kinds of characters that you instantly care for and her plot lines are just wonderful.Kwan and Olivia are a strange pair, and though they share no similarities or traits, Kwan is forever speaking about the likenesses between them. While Kwan is loving and forgiving, able to believe in past lives and ghosts, Olivia is more canny and headstrong; sometimes she can even be considered cruel. As the girls grow and mature together, they never lose these traits. Despite the fact that Olivia treats her shabbily, Kwan is always looking out for her younger sister and always willing to think the best of her. I liked Kwan, but Olivia was a different matter. She was often hard-hearted and emotionally cantankerous, who, when forced to deal with the softer and nobler emotions, often turned selfish and vindictive. This is true not only in her relationship with Kwan but in her relationship with Simon as well. Olivia is aghast with Kwan most of the time and resents her with a passion that Kwan refuses to notice or internalize, and with Simon, Olivia is jealous and possessive, not giving him the space or time to grieve his past losses.As Kwan tells Olivia the story of her past life, she shares how she lived with Jesuit missionaries in 1800s China and befriended an American woman named Miss Banner, who had secrets of her own. This historical fiction component was wedged seamlessly into the modern day storyline and presented Kwan in a more full and all-encompassing light, revealing her her character, not only from days past, but in the present as well. As the historical plot line advances, we see the reason it was so hard for Kwan to be loyal to Miss Banner and why the woman came to depend on her above all others. This storyline skirted the lines between war, loyalty and romance, and was the perfect companion story to the modern day tale of Olivia and Kwan.In the modern timeline, Olivia begins to reve
norabelle414 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This was excellent! I did not love The Joy Luck Club, but this book was way better. It has the interesting stories and good writing, but just two plot lines and fewer characters. Also the names were easier to remember. At first I didn't at all understand Olivia's professed dislike for Kwan. She was a bit clingy and I understood Olivia's being jealous of her as a child. However, this did not translate into the teenage/adult dislike that Olivia mentioned throughout the first third of the book. Once I got into the meat of the story, though, this enmity seems to be forgotten and the book as a whole was much more relatable from then on.I'm picky about books involving ghosts, but this one was good. Not too dismissive, not too superstitious. And of course I always love books about other cultures.
varielle on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is the story of half sisters Olivia and Kwan. Olivia is all-American, but Kwan didn't join her sister in the states until she was a teenager during the Cultural Revolution. Normally, I dislike anything that smacks of magical realism, as it feels like cheating. I'll make an exception in this case, as logical, westernized Olivia can't tell if her sister Kwan is merely superstitious, just a little bit crazy, or if she can really commune with ghosts, or whether the fabulous stories she tells of past lives are real. I've found Tan's books to be inconsistent and prone to beating out the same themes over and over again. However, this was an enjoyable read about cultural identity and the meaning of family.
kakadoo202 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
the first half was slow, but then then second half I could not stop reading. It really picked up and you wanted to now more. The ending is not predictable regarding Kwan. At least was not to me. liked the book a lot.
Maggie_Rum on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Amy Tan is such a wonderful storyteller! While it isn't my favorite Tan work, it's up there.
angela.vaughn on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I have to say that Amy Tan is one of my favorite authors. I was not disappointed with this book. Two sisters go through life trying to figure out what they have in common besides a father, and then try to work out the differences in their own ways. It was heart warming and heartbreaking. It is interesting to see how far family will go for each other.
CatieN on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Olivia and Kwan are half-sisters who share a father. Kwan believes she can not only see ghosts (yin people) but can talk to them. Olivia thinks she is crazy. Mesmerizing story about their trip to China to Kwan's childhood home and ghosts and reincarnation and unconditional love. Highly recommended.
writestuff on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
When she is five years old, Olivia meets a half sister she never knew she had. Kwan is twelve years older and arrives from China to live with Olivia and her family in San Francisco. It is 1962 and Kwan has lived a life light years away from Olivia in terms of culture and language, religion and belief ¿ she is a puzzle to Olivia as she offers up stories of an ancient previous life lived in mid-nineteenth century China. Kwan seems to have the power to communicate with the dead through her ¿yin eyes,¿ something that fascinates, frightens and bewilders Olivia.Narrated mostly from the point of view of Olivia, but interspersed with Kwan¿s fantastic stories, The Hundred Secret Senses is a novel about two sisters and their complicated relationship. As Olivia struggles with her failing marriage, Kwan is her constant companion, whether Olivia likes it or not. Olivia is removed from her Chinese heritage and embarrassed by Kwan¿s stilted English and superstitious beliefs. But despite her best efforts to dismiss Kwan¿s stories, Olivia finds herself drawn into a world where dead people speak, the past becomes entwined with the present, and fate seems unavoidable.Fate has no logic, you can¿t argue with it any more than you can argue with a tornado, an earthquake, a terrorist. Fate is another name for Kwan. ¿ from The Hundred Secret Senses, page 168 -Amy Tan¿s characters jump to life on the page. Original, funny, and deeply complex, the characters drive this story about human connection, love, secrets, and the mystery of life itself. I loved Kwan, a character who is quirky, lovable, and immensely wise.Kwan, in contrast, is a tiny dynamo, barely five feet tall, a miniature bull in a china shop. Everything about her is loud and clashing. She¿ll wear a purple checked jacket over turquoise pants. She whispers loudly in a husky voice, sounding as if she had chronic laryngitis, when in fact she¿s never sick. She dispense health warnings, herbal recommendations, and opinions on how to fix just about anything, from broken cups to broken marriages. She bounces from topic to topic, interspersing tips on where to find bargains. Tommy once said that Kwan believes in free speech, free association, free car-wash with fill-¿er-up. The only change in Kwan¿s English over the last thirty years is in the speed with which she talks. Meanwhile, she thinks her English is great. She often corrects her husband. ¿Not stealed,¿ she¿ll tell George. ¿Stolened.¿ ¿ from The Hundred Secret Senses, page 21 -Tan takes her readers back to China, into an old world of tiny towns and breathtaking vistas, and immerses us in a world of Chinese ghosts and deeply entrenched superstition. She slowly reveals the relationship between Olivia and Kwan, moving toward a conclusion which is surprising, heartbreaking, and filled with hope.I loved this book with its mix of humor and sentiment. Tan alternates between reality and spiritual knowledge, turning what we think we know on its head. She reveals a deeper understanding about what it means to be human and connected in a world which seems vast and mysterious. Readers who appreciate lyrical writing and complex characterization will want to add this Tan novel to their must read pile. The Hundred Secret Senses earned Tan a spot on the 1996 short list for The Orange Prize for Fiction.Highly Recommended.
name99 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I listened to this to get something of a feel for China, and truth is, I found it much more moving than I expected. The China background was nice, and interesting, but it also simply happens to be a very compelling story.
vegaheim on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
little girl olivia gets a halfsister, kwan, from china. kwan is very traditional and superstitious. tells olivia about ghosts etc. explores relationship between the two during the years (from childhood to adulthood) ending is supernatural, great
magst on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
What can I say that I haven't already said... GREAT BOOK!!!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Never wanted this book to end! I read books the way an addict does their drug of choice....i can never get enough! So when i tell you that this book was excellent you must realize that i read enough to know what's good! I learned so much about people, life, choices, and myself!!! Could'nt put it down and feel like i have become a better person from reading it! Also....i never take the time to leave a review after even books i have loved! So what does that tell you!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Two deverse cultures plus a paranormal bunch of ghosts is a tangled web that doesnt work frankly less ghosts sightings seen and not heard when this was written before or after she was able to write again