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Amy Tan

  • If you can't change your fate, change your attitude.

  • ... whenever I'm with my mother, I feel as though I have to spend the whole time avoiding land mines.

  • ... how can you say luck and chance are the same thing? Chance is the first step you take, luck is what comes afterwards.

  • You see what power is — holding someone else's fear in your hand and showing it to them!

  • Her mouth dropped open to let this thought come in and nourish her brain.

  • As I turned down Ross Alley, everything around me immediately becomes muted in tone. It is no longer the glaring afternoon sun and noisy Chinatown sidewalks filled with people doing their Saturday grocery shopping. The alley sounds are softer, quickly absorbed, and the light is hazy, almost greenish in cast. On the right-hand side of the street is the same old barbershop, run by Al Fook, who I notice still uses electric clippers to shear his customers' sideburns. Across the street are the same trade and family associations, including a place that will send ancestor memorials back to China for a fee. And farther down the street is the shopfront of a fortune-teller. A hand-written sign taped to the window claims to have 'the best lucky numbers, the best fortune advice,' but the sign taped to the door says: 'Out of Business.'

  • ... we went to Little East Gate, where all the best seafood vendors put up their stands. She said she was looking for a delicacy she had not tasted for many years. It was a rare little fish, called wah-wah yu, because it cried just like a baby — wah-wah! — and it could wave its arms and legs. And when we found that fish, I heard it cry out loud, I saw it move just as my mother promised it would.

  • My sister Kwan believes she has yin eyes. She sees those who have died and now dwell in the world of Yin, ghosts who leave the mists just to visit her kitchen on Balboa Street in San Francisco.

  • Our breakup was the result of many things: a wrong beginning, bad timing, years and years of thinking habit and silence were the same as intimacy.

  • ... I've always been a magnet for guilt.

  • ... the world is not a place but the vastness of the soul. And the soul is nothing more than love, limitless, endless, all that moves us toward knowing what is true. I once thought love was supposed to be nothing but bliss. I now know it is also worry and grief, hope and trust. And believing in ghosts — that's believing that love never dies. If people we love die, then they are lost only to our ordinary senses. If we remember, we can find them anytime with our hundred secret senses.

  • Chaos is the penance for leisure.

  • Over time, passion wanes, differences don't.

  • My mother imparted her daily truths so she could help my older brothers and me rise above our circumstances. We lived in San Francisco's Chinatown. Like most of the other Chinese children who played in the back alleys of restaurants and curio shops, I didn't think we were poor. My bowl was always full, three five-course meals every day, beginning with a soup full of mysterious things I didn't want to know the names of.

  • When my daughter looks at me, she sees a small old lady. That is because she sees only with her outside eyes. She has no chuming, no inside knowing of things. If she had chuming she would see a tiger lady. And she would have careful fear.

  • Secrets are kept from children, a lid on top of the soup kettle, so they do not boil over with too much truth.

  • ... I was raised the Chinese way: I was taught to desire nothing, to swallow other people's misery, to eat my own bitterness. And even though I taught my daughter the opposite, still she came out the same way! Maybe it is because she was born to me and she was born a girl. And I was born to my mother and I was born a girl. All of us are like stairs, one step after another, going up and down, but all going the same way.

  • She [my mother] said that if I listened to her, later I would know what she knew: where true words came from, always from up high, above everything else. And if I didn't listen to her, she said my ear would bend too easily to other people, all saying words that had no lasting meaning, because they came from the bottom of their hearts, where their own desires lived, a place where I could not belong.

  • I always thought it mattered, to know what is the worst possible thing that can happen to you, to know how you can avoid it, to not be drawn by the magic of the unspeakable.

  • I love my daughter. She and I have shared my body. There is a part of her mind that is a part of mine. But when she was born, she sprang from me like a slippery fish, and has been swimming away ever since.

  • Wise guy, he not go against wind. In Chinese we say, Come from South, blow with wind — poom! — North will follow. Strongest wind cannot be seen.

  • I did not lose myself all at once. I rubbed out my face over the years washing away my pain, the same way carvings on stone are worn down by water.

  • I can never remember things I didn't understand in the first place.

  • In America nobody says you have to keep the circumstances somebody else gives you.

  • You remember only what you want to remember. You know only what your heart allows you to know.

  • Who knows where inspiration comes from? Perhaps it arises from desperation. Perhaps it comes from the flukes of the universe, the kindness of the muses.

    • Amy Tan,
    • "Angst and the Second Book," in Writer's Workshop in a Book ()
  • People think it's a terrible tragedy when somebody has Alzheimer's. But in my mother's case, it's different. My mother has been unhappy all her life. For the first time in her life, she's happy.

    • Amy Tan,
    • in Jocelyn McClurg, "The Story Behind The Story (Amy Tan Has Plenty)," Hartford Courant ()

Amy Tan, U.S. writer

(1952)