In her ambushing and revealing memoir, beloved novelist Tan chronicles with striking candor, sharp wit, and storytelling magic stranger-than-fiction traumas ... In this year of intense literary memoirs, including Sherman Alexie’s You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me and Richard Ford’s Between Them, Tan’s is electric with her forensic curiosity and extraordinary ability to extract from suffering startling insights into the mind-body connection, inheritance, memory, and creativity. A profound work of endless fascination, discovery, and compassion.
...an] honest, thoughtful, at times meandering memoir ... Fans of Tan’s novels The Joy Luck Club and The Valley of Amazement will be thrilled to read about the inspirations for her characters and stories. These chapters really shine, as when she beautifully re-creates in her mind — based on the stories told to her — the lives of her mother (her first husband would put a gun to her head when she refused to have sex with him) and grandmother (who, as a widowed mother, became a concubine) ... Unfortunately, the book loses focus at times, as Tan includes journal entries, stories of cave exploring on Easter Island and e-mails between herself and her editor, Daniel Halpern. The passages offer real insight into Tan, but often feel like digressions.
Not all of the book’s material works: Several shorter digressions, labeled 'quirks,' come off more as disconnected filler than meaningful pieces of a larger project. And at times some repetition across the essays creates frustration rather than the recursive meditation that may have been intended.
Such minor detractions hardly mar the overall power of this richly varied, thought-provoking book. Where the Past Begins will surely gratify Tan’s many fans, and likely win her numerous new ones.
Tan brings the reader directly into those heart-pounding moments of creation throughout the book. She explores how her mind crafts narratives when she hears music, then draws us into one of those narratives as if we’re watching it unfold with her inside her skull ... Some of the most moving passages in Where the Past Begins are centered on Tan’s mother and their profound, sometimes volatile, relationship ... Tan’s memoir can seem a bit shaggy around the edges, a bit slapped together in places, but that feels true to how her mind works.
…a variegated collection of gradually self-revealing entries … Where the Past Begins is subtitled ‘a writer’s memoir,’ and it’s worth mentioning what Tan doesn’t include. There is very little mention of published books; instead, she elaborates on the act of writing, the mechanics and results of her own imagination. She explains the central importance of metaphors, the stories her mind spins while she listens to music.
Tan’s candid revelations make much of the book entertaining, but the slight journal entries and short pieces she calls 'quirks' read like filler, and many chapters would have benefited from further editing. A composite portrait that should appeal to the author’s fans.
...[a] wise and profound memoir ... an’s fans and writers of all kinds will find her latest work fascinating; she explores how her writing has evolved, and how memory sparks imagination ... The memoir reveals that, for Tan, the past is ever present, serving as a wellspring of emotion and writing inspiration.