Amy Tan

Amy Tan is an author most famous for her novels The Joy Luck Club (1989) and The Bonesetter’s Daughter (2001). She is the daughter of Chinese immigrants and often writes stories about what it is like to be Asian American. Her difficult relationship with her mother helped to inspire and shape The Joy Luck Club.

Amy Tan Amy Tan

Create learning materials about Amy Tan with our free learning app!

  • Instand access to millions of learning materials
  • Flashcards, notes, mock-exams and more
  • Everything you need to ace your exams
Create a free account
Contents
Table of contents

    Amy Tan: Biography

    Let's first learn some Amy Tan facts by looking closer at her life.

    Early life

    Amy Tan was born in Oakland, California, on February 19, 1952. Her parents, John and Daisy Tan, were Chinese immigrants. Amy Tan grew up and attended school in Oakland.

    Amy Tan, Oakland California, StudySmarter

    Author Amy Tan was born in Oakland, California, in 1952 Pixabay

    John Tan only lived until Amy Tan was fifteen. He died of a brain tumor, as did Amy Tan’s brother at around the same time. After these tragedies, Daisy took her remaining children to Switzerland. Amy Tan would complete her high school education while living there.

    While living in Switzerland, Amy Tan learned that her mother had an ex-husband in China, as well as several children from that previous marriage. Years later, this family secret would inspire Tan’s first novel, The Joy Luck Club.

    Amy and Daisy Tan did not always get along well. In fact, their relationship was stressed; Daisy was frequently suicidal—as her own mother had been, even eventually committing suicide—and is known to have been violent toward Amy Tan on at least one occasion. That incident involved Daisy holding a knife to Amy Tan’s throat, upset about Tan’s current boyfriend. On another occasion, Tan decided to leave Linfield College and transfer to San Jose City College to follow her boyfriend. Daisy had personally chosen Linfield College for her daughter; she was so upset that several months passed in which the two didn’t speak at all. Amy Tan later transferred to San Jose State University.

    Amy Tan, San Jose State University, StudySmarter

    Amy Tan graduated from San Jose State University Pixabay

    Adult life and Career

    Tan graduated from San Jose State University with a BA in English and Linguistics in 1973 and an MA in Linguistics in 1974. Also in 1974, Amy Tan married Lou DeMattei, whom she had met on a blind date. She worked for several years as a language development specialist. In 1983, Amy Tan’s writing career began when she started working as a freelance business writer. By 1985, she began writing fiction.

    Amy Tan is a member of a literary garage band called the Rock Bottom Remainders that raises money for literacy programs. Their performances have raised over one million dollars. Other band members include Dave Barry, Scott Turow, and Stephen King.

    Her first novel was The Joy Luck Club, published in 1987. It was unexpectedly successful, quickly becoming a bestseller. All of her following novels have also been bestsellers, including The Kitchen God’s Wife (1991), The Hundred Secret Senses (1995), The Bonesetter’s Daughter (2001), Saving Fish from Drowning (2005), and The Valley of Amazement (2013).

    Fact: Amy Tan learned in 1998 that she has Lyme disease, which causes such things as seizures. Because of this she co-founded LymeAid 4 Kids—an organization that provides help to children unable to afford treatment for their Lyme disease.1

    Amy Tan: Books

    Author Amy Tan has written several novels, all of which have been bestsellers. Some of the most famous are highlighted below.

    The Joy Luck Club (1989)

    Amy Tan’s first and most famous novel, The Joy Luck Club, quickly became a bestseller upon its publication. The plot is made up of the stories of four separate Chinese-American families that come together to form a mahjong club. Each character’s story is explored as the plot weaves together sixteen stories about the mothers and daughters that make up the Joy Luck Club.

    The Joy Luck Club was on the New York Times Bestseller list for more than 40 weeks.

    The Bonesetter’s Daughter (2001)

    Amy Tan’s fourth novel, The Bonesetter’s Daughter, was published in 2001. As with many of Tan’s works, it explores the relationship between a Chinese immigrant mother and her Chinese-American daughter. The plot follows two different stories: that of Chinese-American Ruth dealing with an aging mother, Lu Ling, suffering from dementia, and that of Lu Ling’s own life in China that she had written out in Chinese for Ruth. Their relationship shifts and strengthens as Ruth comes to understand her mother’s struggles and why she acts the way she does.

    The Hundred Secret Senses (1995)

    A fictional novel inspired by Tan’s life and her mother’s stories. The plot follows the relationship between two sisters: Kwan, born in China, and Chinese-American Olivia. Though their relationship is initially strained by their cultural differences, they become close and together forge their own understanding of their heritage and identities. This novel covers themes such as identity, heritage, and love.

    Amy Tan’s other novels are The Kitchen God’s Wife (1991), Saving Fish from Drowning (2005), and The Valley of Amazement (2013).

    Amy Tan: Short Stories

    Amy Tan’s short stories are “Mother Tongue” (1990), which discusses the difficulties of being raised in the US by parents who speak limited English, “Fish Cheeks” (1987), which encourages pride in one’s heritage, and “The Voice from the Wall” (1989), which is a short story included within the novel The Joy Luck Club.

    Amy Tan: Other Works

    Amy Tan, SIamese Cat, StudySmarter

    Sagwa, the Chinese Siamese Cat is a children’s book about a Siamese cat learning about its heritage Pixabay

    Author Amy Tan has also written two children’s books and several works of nonfiction. Her children’s books are The Moon Lady (1992) and Sagwa, the Chinese Siamese Cat (1994). Her nonfiction works include The Opposite of Fate: A Book of Musings (2003) and Where the Past Begins: A Writer's Memoir (2017). She also collaborated with other authors on Mid-Life Confidential: The Rock Bottom Remainders Tour America With Three Chords and an Attitude (1994), Mother (1996), and The Best American Short Stories 1999 (1999).

    Amy Tan: Quotes

    We dream to give ourselves hope. To stop dreaming - well, that’s like saying you can never change your fate. (The Hundred Secret Senses ch 13)

    The Hundred Secret Senses is a book that examines the relationship between two sisters—one Chinese-American and the other born in China and not skilled in English or fitting in when she arrives in the United States. This quote shows the evoking relationship between the sisters and the deep connection they eventually form.

    Chance is the first step you take, luck is what comes afterward. (The Kitchen God’s Wife ch 6)

    This quote comes from the novel The Kitchen God’s Wife. This book addresses a Chinese mother, her Chinese-American daughter, and their relationship. It deals with understanding their identities and heritage as well as how they function within a traditionally patriarchal culture.

    Then you must teach my daughter this same lesson. How to lose your innocence but not your hope. How to laugh forever. (The Joy Luck Club, “Queen Smother of the Western Skies)

    This quote is from a short story included between chapters in The Joy Luck Club. These stories are meant to introduce the themes that will be important in the coming chapter. This story introduces the final section of the novel, and highlights themes of cyclical inheritance and wisdom passing between the old and the young, as well as the other way around.

    I hid my deepest feelings so well I forgot where I placed them. (Saving Fish from Drowning ch 1)

    Saving Fish From Drowning is a novel that follows Chinese-American tourists as they travel through their ancestral country. They don’t fully understand what they are experiencing, and the things that they misinterpret are commented on by a spirit they cannot see or hear. The group is kidnapped at one point, and though things get tough they learn to rely on their hidden strengths.

    Amy Tan - Key takeaways

    • Amy Tan (1952-present) is an American author famous for her novel The Joy Luck Club.
    • Amy Tan’s works explore her Asian American identity and experience.
    • All of her novels have been bestsellers, and The Joy Luck Club was a bestseller for over 40 weeks.
    • Major themes of her works include mother-daughter relationships, specifically between Asian mothers and Asian American daughters.

    1“About”. Amytan.net.

    2"'I Am Full Of Contradictions': Novelist Amy Tan On Fate And Family". NPR.org, 2017.

    3Bridget Kinsella, "'Fifty Shades of Tan': Amy Tan". Publishers Weekly, 2013.

    Frequently Asked Questions about Amy Tan

    What is Amy Tan known for?

    Amy Tan is best known for the novels The Joy Luck Club and The Bonesetter’s Daughter.

    Was Amy Tan Born in China?

    Amy Tan was born in Oakland, California to parents who immigrated from China.

    How old is Amy Tan now?

    Amy Tan was born in 1952; as of 2022, she is 70. 

    Why is Amy Tan so important?

    Amy Tan is the bestselling author of books such as The Joy Luck Club and The Bonesetter’s Daughter. These books explore the dynamics the relationship between Asian mothers and Asian American daughters.

    Where and when was Amy Tan born?

    Amy Tan was born in Oakland, California, in 1952.

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    Where was Amy Tan born?

    True or false: Amy Tan’s parents were both Chinese immigrants. 

    What was Amy Tan’s first novel?

    Next
    1
    About StudySmarter

    StudySmarter is a globally recognized educational technology company, offering a holistic learning platform designed for students of all ages and educational levels. Our platform provides learning support for a wide range of subjects, including STEM, Social Sciences, and Languages and also helps students to successfully master various tests and exams worldwide, such as GCSE, A Level, SAT, ACT, Abitur, and more. We offer an extensive library of learning materials, including interactive flashcards, comprehensive textbook solutions, and detailed explanations. The cutting-edge technology and tools we provide help students create their own learning materials. StudySmarter’s content is not only expert-verified but also regularly updated to ensure accuracy and relevance.

    Learn more
    StudySmarter Editorial Team

    Team Amy Tan Teachers

    • 8 minutes reading time
    • Checked by StudySmarter Editorial Team
    Save Explanation

    Study anywhere. Anytime.Across all devices.

    Sign-up for free

    Sign up to highlight and take notes. It’s 100% free.

    Join over 22 million students in learning with our StudySmarter App

    The first learning app that truly has everything you need to ace your exams in one place

    • Flashcards & Quizzes
    • AI Study Assistant
    • Study Planner
    • Mock-Exams
    • Smart Note-Taking
    Join over 22 million students in learning with our StudySmarter App