The Hundred Secret Senses

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Overview

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 ...
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The Hundred Secret Senses

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Overview

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.

Amy Tan's latest effort unfolds a series of family secrets that questions the connection between fate, beliefs, and hopes, memory and imagination, and the natural gifts of our hundred secret senses. Years after her Chinese half-sister assails her with ghost stories set in the mysterious world of Yin, a young woman finds herself in China, looking for a way to reconcile the ghosts of her past with the dreams of her future.

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Editorial Reviews

Newsweek
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.
Newsweek
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.
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.
From Barnes & Noble
Set in San Francisco and in a remote village of southern China, this is the story of a young American woman's pragmatism, shaken and soothed by Chinese ghosts she swears she doesn't believe in. From the acclaimed author of The Joy Luck Club and The Kitchen God's Wife.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780804111096
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 10/28/1996
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 406
  • Product dimensions: 4.25 (w) x 6.86 (h) x 0.96 (d)

Meet the Author

Amy Tan

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.

Biography

Amy Tan is the author of The Joy Luck Club, The Kitchen God's Wife, The Hundred Secret Senses, 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.

Author biography courtesy of Random House, Inc.

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    1. Also Known As:
      En-Mai Tan
    2. Hometown:
      San Francisco, California and New York, New York
    1. Date of Birth:
      February 19, 1952
    2. Place of Birth:
      Oakland, California
    1. Education:
      B.A., San Jose State University, 1973; M.A., 1974

Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 71 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(43)

4 Star

(18)

3 Star

(7)

2 Star

(3)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 71 Customer Reviews
  • Posted February 27, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    beautiful and optimistic

    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.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 1, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    American Chinese Olivia Laguni finds out she has an older Chines

    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. 

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 4, 2007

    A reviewer

    Since The Joy Luck Club is Amy Tan's most popular work, when I disliked it I figured I wouldn't enjoy this either. However, it was recommended to me by a friend who also disliked The Joy Luck Club. I enjoyed this book so much I'm surpirsed it's by the same author(as are some others, apparently).

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 27, 2013

    Love it!

    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.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 18, 2013

    wonderful

    One of the best books I've read in a while.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 6, 2013

    Great book

    Amy Tan is one of the only fiction authors I read. A great read.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 5, 2012

    Great

    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

    Posted July 3, 2012

    Fell short...

    Sadly, this fell short of my expectations...though i continued reading to the end.

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  • Posted September 17, 2011

    Enjoyable, heart-wrenching, thoughtful

    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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  • Posted July 19, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Introduces tolerance between 2 different people

    This book was a little slow and confusing at the beginning. But once you get to know the two main characters: Kwan and Olivia. They are half sisters, who get to know eachother after Kwan is brought to America from China. Two different women, however they share a special bond. This is a great book for book clubs or something to read on a rainy day. Kwan speaks with a thick accent, so it is a little hard to follow at times. However, Tan describes the characters very vividly and you will get a perfect picture of the two women.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 24, 2008

    An exhilarating story!

    I had so much fun reading this book. It was the first Amy Tan novel I have read. I loved Kwan's character so bubbly and always trying to please and help Libby-ah who was always searching for something more and going about it in a negative way. I also enjoyed Amy Tan's sense of humor. Every so often I would find myself laughing out loud. The ending was sad though Kwan disappearing. It was a great read!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 5, 2007

    A reviewer

    Like the most of Amy Tan¿s books, The Hundred Secret Senses evolves around two distinctive characters, one being a Chinese-American who does not understand the Chinese culture and custom and the other being a Chinese from China with great pride in being a Chinese. Through out the book, Tan illustrates how these two characters influence each other and how these characters bring alterations in each other¿s belief and personality. In the beginning the book seems lame because one of the main characters claims that she can see and talk to ghosts. The meaning behind this claim is revealed later in the novel as the readers discover the author¿s message of the novel. The book is long, but it¿s easy to read. However if I had free time to read this book again, I will definitely not read it because they only books that I can read over and over is the Harry Potter series, and The Hundred Secret Senses is not amusing as the Harry Potter series. If you liked The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan, you will be able to enjoy this book, but I personally like The Joy Luck Club better because it has various stories about different characters that are told from different perspectives. If you are reading this book for Mrs. Kadletz class, just note that the devices for the journal are easy to find, but they are not easy to analyze. You have to think and think in order to analyze them in A.P. level analysis.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 13, 2006

    Utterly confusing

    Unfortuantely, I did not enjoy this book. After 50+ pages, I gave up and stopped reading. The book started out well, with explaining how her 'yin eyed' sister became part of her family. The childhood stuff was nice to read. However, switching between the present and all those boring dream sequences, left me confused and frustrated.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 17, 2005

    my favorite book

    I am a faithful reader of Amy Tan and I must say that this is her best work to date! Once you pick it up you can't seem to put it down as you are pulled into the story more and more. This is an excellent read and won't disappoint!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 15, 2005

    Insightfully Written

    Amy Tan's 'The Hundred Secret Senses' is amazing in its ability to convey the distress between this mother and daughter relationship. It shoes the progression of their bond through life, its faults and its triumphs. Overall, this book is destined to be a classic.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 2, 2005

    ghosts ain't never looked like this

    This book carefully delves into the world of ghosts. In her former life, Kwan was Nunumu, a girl who lost her eye and now only has one. She went to church. She once knew a Yiban Johnson,a half Engish and half Chinese man who is the interpreter for a conquerer named Cape, and Miss Banner. Olivia thinks she is living in the shadow of her husband Simon's former lover who died in an avalanche. Kwan was their matchmaker. She said she saw the former lover in the world of yin. The lover says to forget her--or so Olivia hears Kwan say. Seventeen years later, when they are about to divorce, Fate's tickets take them to China, where Kwan plants herself. This is where Olivia has to decide if her half-sister's stories are true or not and in the process, find if her love with Simon is real. I've just got to say this book was TIGHT!!!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 25, 2005

    A review, Belinda

    Overall I loved the story. The chinses accent mades the sory seem even more realistic. Tan's style of writing allows for the reader to have a deeper understnading of the characters, though the ending was somewhat disappointing. What happens to Kwan?

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 1, 2004

    WONDERFULLY WRITTEN

    Wow! Of all of Amy Tan's books, this has to be my favorite! Such a meaningful lesson and moral in this story. I would reccomend this to anyone.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 7, 2003

    Beautiful story that stays with the reader.

    I love Amy Tan's style and this book does not dissappoint. Beautifully written, this story will envelope you in another world far away...yet with enough connections to our world to make the reader question the reality of certain spiritual issues. It will leave you feeling good and the characters stay with you after you are done reading. I hope Ms. Tan will write a second part to this one!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 6, 2003

    you HAVE to read this book!

    this story makes us realize that things DO happen for a reason and that we should know that even though we might try to change our future, we can never really change fate, cant change love, or anything that serious. I really enjoyed reading this book and i hope you do as well

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