The Hundred Secret Senses

The Hundred Secret Senses

4.3 76
by Amy Tan

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Set in San Francisco and in a remote village of southern China, this is a tale of American pragmatism shaken, and soothed, by Chinese ghosts. What proof of love do we seek between mother and daughter, among sisters, lovers, and friends? What are its boundaries and failings? Can love go beyond 'Until death do us part?' And if so, which aspects haunt us like regretful…  See more details below


Set in San Francisco and in a remote village of southern China, this is a tale of American pragmatism shaken, and soothed, by Chinese ghosts. What proof of love do we seek between mother and daughter, among sisters, lovers, and friends? What are its boundaries and failings? Can love go beyond 'Until death do us part?' And if so, which aspects haunt us like regretful ghosts? In 1962, Olivia, nearly six years old, meets Kwan, her adult half sister from China, for the first time. Olivia's neglectful mother, who in pursuing a new marriage can't provide the attention her daughter needs, finds Kwan to be a handy caretaker. In the bedroom the sisters share, Kwan whispers secrets about ghosts and makes Olivia promise never to reveal them. Out of both fright and resentment, Olivia betrays her sister -- with terrible consequences. From then on she listens to Kwan's stories and pretends to believe them. Thirty years pass, and Olivia is about to divorce her husband, Simon, after a lengthy marriage. She is certain he has never given up his love for a former girlfriend, who died years before. Kwan and her ghosts believe otherwise, and they provide Olivia with ceaseless advice and pleas to reconsider. But Olivia has long since dismissed the ghosts of her childhood and the wacky counsel of her sister. Just as Kwan anticipates, fate intervenes and takes her, Olivia, and Simon to China. In the village where Kwan grew up, Olivia confronts the tangible evidence of what she has always presumed to be her sister's fantasy of the past. And there, she finds the proof that love endures, and comes to understand what logic ignores, what you can know only through the hundred secret senses.

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Editorial Reviews

Tan has once more produced a novel somewhat like a hologram: turn it this way and find Chinese-Americans shopping and arguing in San Francisco; turn it that way and the Chinese of Changmian village in 1864 are fleeing into the hills to hide from the rampaging Manchus. . . .The Hundred Secret Senses doesn't simply return to a world but burrows more deeply into it, following new trails to fresh revelations.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Tan's novel of the conflicts between two very different Chinese American sisters spent 12 weeks on PW's bestseller list. (Dec.)
Joanne Wilkinson
Tan, a critical and commercial favorite, returns to the fiction scene after a four-year absence with a risky, ambitious novel that tackles themes of loyalty, connectedness, and what it means to be a family. When Olivia Yee's half-sister, Kwan, arrives from China, Olivia's life is irrevocably changed. For one thing, Kwan has yin eyes--she can see ghosts. Every night as they were growing up, Kwan told Olivia bedtime stories about the same group of yin people: a woman named Banner, a man named Cape, a one-eyed bandit girl, and a half-and-half man. But, for Olivia, Kwan is also a perpetual source of embarrassment due to her endless questions, fractured English, and boundless optimism. When Olivia separates from her husband, Simon, Kwan schemes to get them back together, and the three take a trip to China to visit the village where Kwan grew up and to learn the secret of their connection to the yin people. Tan's fantastical novel is both mesmerizing and awkward. She is obviously betting that readers will find the ancient and modern worlds she draws here equally fascinating, but Kwan steals every scene she appears in, and her magnetic ghost stories completely overpower Olivia's more modern tale of a broken relationship. It's no contest, for who can resist the lure of a good old-fashioned ghost story?
USA Today
Her most polished work . . . Tan is a wonderful storyteller, and the story's many strands -- Olivia's childhood, her courtship and marriage, Kwan's ghost stories and village tales -- propel the work to its climactic but bittersweet end.
Boston Sunday Globe
The wisest and most captivating novel Tan has written.
San Diego Tribune
Truly magical. . .unforgettable . . . The first-person narrator is Olivia Laguni, and her unrelenting nemesis from childhood on is her half-sister, Kwan Li. . . . It is Kwan's haunting predictions, her implementation of the secret senses, and her linking of the present with the past that cause this novel to shimmer with meaning.

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Product Details

Random House Publishing Group
Publication date:
Edition description:
Product dimensions:
4.25(w) x 6.86(h) x 0.96(d)
Age Range:
14 - 18 Years

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

Meet 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.

Brief Biography

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

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The Hundred Secret Senses 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 76 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!
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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
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cjtegCG More than 1 year ago
This is the first of Amy Tan novels that I read because I am under the impression that it is the first one and I want to read them in order. I absolutely love the strong China culture woven into this novel and I love the story. Not predictable & excellent writing style. I wrote something to this about the second one of her novels that I read: that I am a non fiction reader because there is so very much to learn about everything in our world..but I gave Amy Tan a try and there is so very much of the China culture in here that I consider it almost fact..not fiction.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
One of the best books I've read in a while.
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Brittney Braxton More than 1 year ago
Really enjoyed this book. At some points I was so frustrated by Libby-yas analysis and logic to things, especially her big fights with Simon, but they at the same time felt real. Some people deal with situations like this. In all, the ending was sad but a beautiful ending. I wish i had a Kwan figure in my life.
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