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The Hundred Secret Senses

Updated on July 4, 2017

Review of "The Hundred Secret Senses" by Amy Tan

The epic novel of two cultures, spanning several families and telling two different related stories: The Hundred Secret Senses: A Novel by Amy Tan is one of my favorite books.

Like theThe Joy Luck Club this book tells parallel stories of women in China of the past, and the San Francisco Chinese community of the present. Both insights into Chinese life are fascinating.

And this book introduces us to that most unforgettable character: Kwan. In many ways this is my favorite Amy Tan novel. I think you will enjoy The Hundred Secret Senses - especially meeting the memorable Kwan.

Photo of Amy Tan taken by David Sifry, available by Creative Commons license

The Hundred Secret Senses: A Novel [Paperback]

This intricate novel enthralls you by the use of parallel plots - a modern day story of a modern Chinese American woman and her embarrassing - but wonderful sister Kwan who can see GHOSTS, and a historical Chinese story that Kwan says is her past life story.

This story is about family shame, Chinese culture, psychic phenomena and adventure. And it is by the incomparable Amy Tan. How much better can you get?

Olivia was jealous of the attention that Kwan had gained, and also embarrassed by her less than sophisticated ways. She often tattled to her parents. When she told them that Kwan saw ghosts they decided Kwan was insane and hospitalized her in an insane asylum. There she is treated with shock "therapy" - leaving Kwan's beautiful thick hair as coarse and tightly curly afterwards. However, somehow Kwan forgave Olivia, and much of the story deals with how Olivia learns to appreciate Kwan.

Kunichika Toyohara[see page for license], via Wikimedia Commons
Kunichika Toyohara[see page for license], via Wikimedia Commons

The story in The Hundred Secret Senses

A Tale of Two China's

The book takes place in the Chinese community of modern San Francisco.

The story begins as Olivia Yee, a half-Chinese and half-Caucasian modern woman learns as a little girl at her father's death that she has a Chinese half-sister.

After the death of the father, her new sister Kwan comes to live with them. Olivia is hoping for an exotic, delicate flower.

instead she gets Kwan - who is an embarrassment from the very beginning with her flamboyant, clumsy ways, her broken English, and her unsophisticated optimism. But most upsetting of all Kwan has "yin eyes" - and she claims these eyes give her the ability to see ghosts.

Throughout the book Olivia teases Kwan in cruel ways for her differences; with the worse assault being tattling to adults about Kwan's claims to see ghosts.

Kwan explains the Hundred Secret Sense further to Olivia

Olivia " What do you mean, hundred secret sense?'"

Kwan" Ah! I already told you so many time! You don't listen? Secret sense is not really secret. We just call secret because everyone has, only forgotten. Same sense like ant feet, elephant trunk, dog nose,cat whisker, whale ear, bat wing, clam shell, snake tongue, little hair on flower. Memory, seeing, hearing, feeling, all come together, then you know something true in your heart. Like one sense, I don't know how say, maybe sense of tingle."

Amy Tan Reads the Book For You

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Send to Yin World. Everything with mind and heart together, use hundred secret sense.

Miss Moo's Life in China in the 1800's

A Fascinating Sub-plot in this book

Because Kwan can see ghosts, we are treated with stories of her "past life" in southern China in the 1850's. There Kwan was a young woman of the Hakka minority living with American missionaries with an agenda to overcome the current political dynasty with a Christian based rulership that goes beyond any desires to bring "truth" to the Chinese people.

The view of American Imperialism that comes about is painful; we watch the Chinese people played on with threats and promises of abundance. Kwan's historical character: "Miss Moo" gets an unique view of the missionary society as she becomes the friend and confident of Miss Banner, one of the missionaries. The story here evolves into a dramatic end throughout the story, and we learn more of what made Kwan, the loyal, good-hearted woman that she is.

The multiple story lines were one more example of what a rich writer Amy Tan is - and it made The Hundred Secret Senses a hugely enjoyable book.

More Amy Tan on Amazon - And More Great Chinese Entertainment

Los Cien Sentidos Secretos / The Hundred Secret Senses (Spanish Edition)
Los Cien Sentidos Secretos / The Hundred Secret Senses (Spanish Edition)

The Hundred Secret Senses translated into Spanish - more chances to read this wonderful book.

The Bonesetter's Daughter: A Novel (Ballantine Reader's Circle)
The Bonesetter's Daughter: A Novel (Ballantine Reader's Circle)

More Amy Tan at her best: mothers and daughters, Chinese village past with a modern Chinese-American present and beautiful storytelling that holds it all together.

Charlie Rose with Elie Wiesel; Amy Tan (November 9, 1995)
Charlie Rose with Elie Wiesel; Amy Tan (November 9, 1995)

In this Dvd you will be able to see an interview with Amy Tan in which she discusses her experience with The Joy Luck Club, as well as the Hundred Secret Senses.

The Joy Luck Club
The Joy Luck Club

Unfortunately this is the only one of Amy Tan's books that is available in the form of a movie. Fortunately, this is an excellent film directed by Wayne Wang and not to be missed!

Eat a Bowl of Tea
Eat a Bowl of Tea

And while we are at it.......We might as well add this DVD - one of my favorites about the Chinese and Chinese American experience, again directed by Wayne Wang.


The Trip inside China

As the story developed in San Francisco, Olivia and her husband Kwan grew more and more estranged. Kwan sensed that quickly and could not help but trying to do everything she could to bring them back together. The family was unexpectedly drawn to China, where they were able to visit Kwan's relatives deep into a rural area.

There they had many adventures as they meet Kwan's people and the story came to the end.

How did This Book End?

The book's end caught me by surprise, with a poignant but very touching conclusion that left me thinking about it for days.

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Please comment on this lens! I love hearing what you have to say.

Do Think You would Like this Book? - Do you like Amy Tan?

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      Ibidii 3 years ago

      Eight of Amy Tan's books are available now for me at the Library for the Blind. I cannot wait to listen to the Hundred Secret Senses! Awesome review Rose!

    • profile image

      julieannbrady 3 years ago

      Hmmm, most intriguing ... you had me at "ant feet, elephant trunk, dog nose,cat whisker, whale ear, bat wing, clam shell, snake tongue, [and particularly] little hair on flower!"

    • profile image

      DebMartin 5 years ago

      I have not read this book yet but I did enjoy The Joy Luck Club. I've added Hundred Secret Senses to my list. d

    • Steph Tietjen profile image

      Stephanie Tietjen 5 years ago from Albuquerque, New Mexico

      I love her works. I read this and Joy Luck and will have to read her others. Now I think I have to read this one again, too. Thanks!

    • Spiderlily321 profile image

      Spiderlily321 5 years ago

      I have heard a lot about Amy Tan and have a couple of her books. I haven't read them yet, but after reading this lens, I am definitely going to. Thank you!

    • Gypzeerose profile image

      Rose Jones 5 years ago

      @beaworkathomemom: Cool! A reader! I am telling you - this book is good.

    • beaworkathomemom profile image

      beaworkathomemom 5 years ago

      I liked this book as I did with Amy Tan's other books.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Yes, I do like Amy Tan, and believe I will enjoy this book! :)

    • lamontcranston profile image

      lamontcranston 5 years ago

      Fascinating lens, I'm putting this book on my list of books to read at the beach.

    • KimGiancaterino profile image

      KimGiancaterino 5 years ago

      You've got me curious. I love The Joy Luck Club and have seen the movie at least a dozen times. Another one for the reading list!

    • Gypzeerose profile image

      Rose Jones 5 years ago

      @artbyrodriguez: Yes it was very powerful. I found myself thinking about it for a long time.

    • artbyrodriguez profile image

      Beverly Rodriguez 5 years ago from Albany New York

      It sounds like a powerful and interesting book. Very well done lens.