Where to Start with Amy Tan

By Nicholas Parker
February 17, 2017
Amy Tan

Amy Tan. Image via

Amy Tan, the bestselling author known for her moving stories of Chinese-American mothers and daughters, celebrates her 65th birthday on February 19. In her near 30-year career, Tan has penned seven novels, several works of non-fiction, and two children's books, and was a finalist for the National Book Award and the Orange Prize. If you haven't read any Amy Tan, her work is a treasure trove of beautiful stories about immigration, intergenerational division, and the Chinese-American experience. Check out our list of recommended novels to start with to learn more.

The Joy Luck Club, 1989

The Joy Luck Club

Tan's debut novel is also her most famous, causing a huge splash upon its release and eventually spawning a Hollywood adaptation. The Joy Luck Club of the title consists of four Chinese women and their four daughters, born in America, and the novel takes the form of a series of vignettes spanning generations: from the mothers' journeys from China to America, to the current crises their daughters face in adulthood. Notable for its rich characters and moving depictions of mother-daughter relationships, The Joy Luck Club is an absolute Amy Tan must-read.

The Valley of Amazement, 2013

The Valley of Amazement

Amy Tan's most recent book, The Valley of Amazement, is epic tale encompassing decades from turn-of-the-century San Francisco to the fall of the Qing dynasty in Shanghai, as a mother and daughter are separated, an ocean between them. As the two women seek to find each other and themselves, Tan explores her characteristic themes of motherhood, identity, and the clash of Chinese and American cultures in this unsparing, sweeping tale.

The Kitchen God's Wife, 1991

The Kitchen God's Wife

The Kitchen God's Wife focuses on the unspoken tensions and emotional walls between Chinese-American Pearl Brandt and her immigrant mother, Winnie, as the two try to connect at a family reunion in San Francisco. In this ambitious novel, which reviewers compared to War and Peace and Gone With The Wind, Winnie opens up to her daughter about her life before coming to America, and her struggles with abandonment, neglect, and her abusive marriage.

The Hundred Secret Senses, 1995

The Hundred Secret Senses

This novel, Tan's third, shifts away from her bread and butter mother-daughter relationships to focus on two sisters instead: Libby, an American-born photographer, is constantly irked by her half-sister Kwan, who immigrated from China years prior and claims to be able to converse with ghosts. When the pair visit Kwan's hometown, Changmian, Libby begins to notice strange connections between the present and the tales of the past that Kwan seems to have pulled from the land of the dead.

What are your favorite Amy Tan reads? Give them a shout-out in the comments below!