I have been reading Amy Tan since I was a teenager. I still have hard copies of her books on my shelf. I was annoyed the other day when I realized that somehow my copy of "The Joy Luck Club" went missing and had to go out and purchase another copy. I have been waiting for weeks now to get this copy of her memoir from the library. I was initially pretty happy with the memoir, but it was a very hard read to get through.
"Where the Past Begins" I have to say does give you insight into some of Tan's most famous works such as "The Joy Luck Club," "The Bonesetter's Daughter", and "The Kitchen God's Wife." You find out that she used her mother and maternal grandmother for inspiration for some of her characters. For example, the story in "The Joy Luck Club" that follows An-mei Hsu that tells about how her mother was raped by a rich man and forced to become his concubine/fourth wife. We find out that a similar situation happened to Tan's grandmother.
When the memoir gives you glimpses into the events that have shaped her stories, the book really shines. I had more problems when the book took on things that I think would have better served being cut such as Part V Reading and Writing and a portion titled "I Am The Author of This Novel."
I am fascinated by Tan's family's history and the strongest portions of the book really are when she talks of her mother and even her father. It sounds like her parents had to struggle to be together and then when they came to America there were still issues that Tan's mother was trying to overcome. Some of the incidents sounded very shocking, and one wonders how she can keep going on as she had with seemingly no bitterness.
I also didn't realize that Tan's father died when she was a teen as well as an older brother. I think if we got a straight forward memoir that I would have enjoyed this more. I think jumping back and forth chronologically made things confusing. We also had Tan including the same information about her mother and maternal grandmother in different sections which made the book feel a bit repetitive. I outright disliked one of the chapters, Chapter Ten Letters to the Editor. It is just emails back and forth between her and her editor.
Tan includes some insight into the Shanghainese and what makes them so different. I really enjoyed that she included pictures of her family as well as drawings that she has done. That tipped things up enough for me to give this two stars.