Where the Past Begins: A Writer's Memoir

by Amy Tan

Hardcover, 2017





Ecco (2017), Edition: First Edition First Printing Signed By A, 368 pages


"From New York Times bestselling author Amy Tan, a memoir on her life as a writer, her childhood, and the symbiotic relationship between fiction and emotional memory"--


½ (43 ratings; 3.7)

User reviews

LibraryThing member CherylGrimm
Where The Past Begins by Amy Tan

Truly a “Writer’s Memoir” as it is a literary joy to read. I loved in the introduction, where when mentioning mementos kept & discarded, she relates “To be honest, I have discarded photos of people I would never want to be reminded of again.” .. “ people
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I once trusted and who did the equivalent of knocking me down to be the first in line at the ice cream truck.” How with relics of her youth that her “fingerprints overlap those I had left as a child.”

Told in vignettes of her life, entertaining tales of the early art, reading, seclusion, music and back history.

Growing up in the shadow of her older “genius” brother, with a mentally unstable mother, performance pressing father and all the basic insecurities of children. She suffers the early death of both her brother and father, which further sets off her mother’s exasperation at life.

There is lore ( “The Breaker of Combs” ) fascinating tidbits : that toons are set to classical music, the frontal lobe of the brain induces spontaneous creativity, what the vagus nerve is and does, tea rolling, caving (funny section), and what li hai means.

Snarky, self-deprecating in many ways, there were several laugh out loud lines. A lovely flow of words that should have been edited better (too much repetition, especially dealing with her mother’s depression and suicide attempts.) It was fun getting this backstage pass into this intelligent woman’s life and thoughts.
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LibraryThing member quondame
A moving view into Amy Tan's store of memory and the stories she's been told and has imagined and re-imagined from their emotional hearts to explore the truth of the past. The importance of story in how we know and judge ourselves and others and the consequences of having stories imposed on us, is
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not so much a recurrent but a constant theme as she tells stories from her life an her parents' lives, early and late.
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LibraryThing member SamSattler
I came to Amy Tan’s novels very late in her career despite having been aware of her almost from the moment that The Joy Luck Club hit the bookstores back in 1989. Even saying that “I came” to her novels is a bit misleading as, to this day, that’s the only one of her novels I’ve read –
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and I didn’t finally read that one until 2015. But still, Amy Tan fascinates me enough that I recently purchased a copy of her 2017 “writer’s memoir” Where the Past Begins in hardcopy and borrowed the audiobook version from the library in order to hear Tan read her own work. Let’s just say that I was not disappointed and that Tan continues to fascinate me.

Where the Past Begins: A Writer’s Memoir intimately explores the author’s family history, especially that of her mother. Those familiar with Tan’s novels will already be familiar with the basics of her family tree and how the family ended up in America; even those like me who have read only The Joy Luck Club will immediately recognize several of Tan’s relatives and episodes from their lives. But what they will be reading for the first time is how it really was for Tan to grow up with a mother who often used the threat of suicide to get her husband and children to do what she wanted them to do. Perhaps the most surprising thing about Where the Past Begins, however, is that Tan even decided to share the cathartic process of writing it with her readers, in the first place.

It all started for Tan when she decided to explore the contents of the seven plastic bins she kept in her office, bins containing photographs, letters, and miscellaneous memorabilia marking some of the “frozen moments in time” relating to her own past and to her family history (moments from before her own birth). During the process, she learned just how unreliable many of her childhood memories were, and she was forced to reconfigure and reassess the ones she had of her parents. Tan learned who her parents really were.

The author pulls no punches here. This is as honest a memoir as one could wish for, one in which its author reveals much about her mentally unstable mother (including one incident in which her mother came at her with a knife) and how the relationship shaped her into the writer she would became. Tan also shares frank details about her father and her two brothers and her relationship with each of them. Not awfully surprising, I suppose, she learns that her surviving brother’s memories of their childhood do not always mesh in detail or in content with those of her own. Amy Tan is figuring out here who she is and how she became that person – and she takes her readers along for the ride.

Equally intriguing and honest are the book’s segments on the writing process and how Tan works her way through it to produce her fiction. Tan is not one of those overconfident writers who can speed through the writing process with the full confidence that she will almost certainly produce something worth publishing. For her, almost the opposite seems to be the case, and it is an educational joy to read through the long email exchange she shares here between her and her trusted editor.

Bottom Line: Where the Past Begins will interest both Amy Tan admirers and general fans of the memoir genre who know relatively little about the author herself. The audiobook version of the memoir is read by the Tan (at a slow pace that can at times become a bit annoying), something else that will appeal to her already-fans. The drawback to reading this one via audiobook, however, is not being able to study the numerous family photos and documents that are available in the printed version (additions I only learned of because I have a hardcopy of the book). But whichever way you decide to experience Where the Past Begins, it is an interesting look into the life of one of this America’s most respected authors.
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LibraryThing member nx74defiant
Sometimes this is tough to read. Amy's childhood with a suicidal, undiagnosed, untreated mentally ill mother. Her mother and grandmother has tragic stories.
There are good times too.
She reflects on how she came to be a writer.


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Physical description

368 p.; 6 inches


0062319299 / 9780062319296
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