Amy Tan made a name for herself as one of the foremost novelists chronicling the Asian-American experience. Since releasing her first novel, The Joy Luck Club, Tan often writes intimately about mother-daughter relationships in her work. A finalist for the National Book Award, Tan was also the subject of a documentary Amy Tan: Unintended Memoir that aired on PBS in 2021. Her works of fiction are joined by two books about her life as well as two books for children.
Amy Tan Novels
The Joy Luck Club
Perhaps Tan’s most well-known work, The Joy Luck Club weaves the stories of four mothers and their daughters. It also paints a rich portrait of first- and second-generation Chinese American immigrants. The club referenced in the title refers to the group first formed in 1949 by four mothers recently immigrated to San Francisco. As they share their hopes and hurts, the reader, too, gains a deep connection to the women and their families.
Tan’s portrait of an enduring and complex female friendship spanning more than 50 years is one of secrets kept, both for and from each other. When Helen, one of the two friends central to the story, believes she is dying, she’s ready to air everything. However, her lifelong confidante Winnie has secrets even Helen does not know—and she wants to be the one to tell her version.
LuLing Young is trying to write the mythical stories of her girlhood before she forgets them. Her daughter Ruth works as a ghostwriter of self-help books and struggles to use her own voice at home with her husband and daughters. Tan brings to life another complex yet loving mother-daughter relationship.
Tan tells this story in alternating points-of-view of half-Chinese Olivia Laguni and her half-sister Kwan Li. It’s further proof Tan writes family dynamics like no other. Olivia learns that although she may be embarrassed by her older sister and frustrated by her stories of Manchu China, she also needs her.
Set in Shanghai at the turn of the century, Tan again manages to introduce readers to a detailed account of an era in Chinese history. She also brings to life the people who lived it. While the main characters are a mother and a daughter, Tan shines her insightful gaze on each person with whom their paths cross.
Bibi Chen has planned the trip of a lifetime along the famed Burma Road for 11 of her friends. Sadly, she dies before she can take it with them. As she watches from the afterlife, she witnesses how they go far off the course she set, and the reader enjoys her sharp observations in this magical novel.
Tan reveals that her talent far exceeds novels in this captivating picture book. It’s about a young girl who’s impatient to have her wish granted by the Moon Lady and ends up separated from her family at a festival. The story is a retelling of one that Tan uses in her novel The Joy Luck Club.
The Chinese Siamese Cat (illustrated by Gretchen Schields)
Tan and Schields work together again on this playful picture book. In it, a mother cat tells her kittens the story of their ancestry and how they got their markings: They are not Siamese cats, but Chinese cats. This book was adapted as the children’s show Sagwa for PBS Kids.
Tan opens up about how she came to be the well-regarded writer she is today in this memoir. It’s filled with revelations about how she was raised and how she overcame hardships. Tan also details how she came up with books like The Joy Luck Club and The Kitchen God’s Wife. This volume is a must-read for anyone who’s admired Tan’s work or who simply wants to bear witness to a truly artistic life.
Tan’s second memoir reveals new memories and stories. It also delves into the loss of her father as well as the difficult relationship she had with her mother, some of whose letters are shared within. A must-read for fans of the author’s works.