Amy Tan: a life that’s stranger than fiction

Jane Mulkerrins in The Telegraph:

At-home_2719522bIn her airy, elegant apartment, slap-bang in the centre of SoHo in New York, Amy Tan is explaining the squirm-inducing difficulty of writing sex scenes. “I was so worried people would think they were corny, or a reflection of my own sex life,” the author confesses with a slightly bashful smile. “And I started this book long before that Fifty Shades of Grey came out.” She shakes her head in horror at the notion of her novels being compared with that “mummy porn” hit. But Tan’s latest book, The Valley of Amazement, is set partly in a courtesan house in early-20th-century Shanghai – where women were working as prostitutes and mistresses – so the novel inevitably involves a fair amount of bedroom hoopla, and she deliberated, not simply over the deeds but over the language used to describe them. “I was determined to put certain words in there, words that I thought courtesans really would have used,” she tells me, in her soft, slightly sultry voice. “I didn’t want to be too coy, and I thought words like 'enter’ were a little pedestrian, but I was worried that 'f—’ and 'c—’ might be repulsive to some people.”

It’s more than a little incongruous to hear Tan, a poised, polite 61-year-old author of intelligent popular fiction, talking like a trucker. Her first novel, The Joy Luck Club, comprising 16 interlocking stories about four Chinese immigrant women and their American-born daughters, was on The New York Times bestseller list for 77 weeks and has been made into a Hollywood film. Her five subsequent novels, including The Kitchen God’s Wife and The Bonesetter’s Daughter, have been wildly successful too, translated into more than 35 languages, and she’s also written children’s books and non-fiction. The American-born daughter of Chinese immigrant parents, Tan is credited with sparking the trend for fiction that explores ethnic identity. Her books are set against sweeping historical backdrops; part of the difficulty with her latest work, she says, was that no one had conducted any serious research into courtesan houses of that era.

More here.