Where the Past Begins: A Writer's Memoir

Amy Tan

Ecco, 2017

Agent: Sandra Dijkstra

From New York Times bestselling author Amy Tan comes a memoir on her life as a writer, her childhood, and the symbiotic relationship between fiction and emotional memory. 

In Where the Past Begins, bestselling author of The Joy Luck Club and The Valley of Amazement Amy Tan is at her most intimate in revealing the truths and inspirations that underlie her extraordinary fiction. By delving into vivid memories of her traumatic childhood, confessions of self-doubt in her journals, and heartbreaking letters to and from her mother, she gives evidence to all that made it both unlikely and inevitable that she would become a writer. Through spontaneous storytelling, she shows how a fluid fictional state of mind unleashed near-forgotten memories that became the emotional nucleus of her novels. 

Tan explores shocking truths uncovered by family memorabilia—the real reason behind an IQ test she took at age six, why her parents lied about their education, mysteries surrounding her maternal grandmother—and, for the first time publicly, writes about her complex relationship with her father, who died when she was fifteen. Supplied with candor and characteristic humor, Where the Past Begins takes readers into the idiosyncratic workings of her writer’s mind, a journey that explores memory, imagination, and truth, with fiction serving as both her divining rod and link to meaning. 


•A New York Times and Indie bestseller
•Longlisted for the 2018 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Non-Fiction
•Named a best book of 2017 by Barnes & Noble and Refinery 29
•Named by Publisher's Weekly as one of the most anticipated books of Fall 2017
•A BBC must read for October 2017
•A Vanity Fair must read for October 2017
•A People Magazine Book of the Week

"[Where the Past Begins] captures [Amy Tan's] humor, her compassion, her stunning facility with metaphor, her deep sense of wonderment."
San Francisco Chronicle

"Raw and immediate..."
Washington Post

"[R]ichly varied, thought-provoking...Where the Past Begins will surely gratify Tan's many fans, and likely win her numerous new ones."
USA Today

"[H]onest, thoughtful...Tan offers deep insight about the writing process throughout [Where the Past Begins]..."
Minneapolis Star Tribune

"A fascinating look at the relationship between memory and creativity, delivered in lyrical prose."

"While writing Where the Past Begins...Tan bravely waded into her past. In the process, she excavated secrets about her parents' lives and opened personal wounds...."

"In her ambushing and revealing memoir, beloved novelist Tan chronicles with striking candor, sharp wit, and storytelling magic stranger-than-fiction traumas…Tan’s [memoir] 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. Any book by best-selling Tan is cause for excitement, and this surprising and gripping memoir will be zealously promoted and discussed.” 
Booklist (starred) 

“In this wise and profound memoir, novelist Tan (The Joy Luck Club, etc.), now 65, looks back on her life, illuminating the path that led her to writing. Tan’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."
Publisher’s Weekly (starred)

"Tan's candid revelations [are] entertaining...A composite portrait that should appeal to the author's fans."
Kirkus Review

"[Tan's] family history is dramatic and captivating, and readers will likely find themselves reflecting on the weight of their own family legends through Tan’s thoughtful musings….Tan’s tenacity and creativity in trying to understand her parents and their stories is both relatable and remarkable. Verdict: Readers of Tan’s novels will enjoy learning about the inspiration behind many of her stories. Book clubs and those who enjoy writers’ memories, stories about difficult families, or children-of-immigrants narratives will also find much to savor."
—Library Journal

"Diverse elements create a compelling portrait of a writer figuring out who she is—and how to put that discovered self into words."

"[F]ull of revealing honesty and [Tan's] characteristic wit."
—Refinery 29