An intimate writer's memoir from the author of The Joy Luck Club, told in a collage of journal entries, letters and meditations on a wide range of subjects, from writing and memory to music, language and family.
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.