Amy Tan Q&A: “I don’t think about doom – but I know what it feels like”

The author talks global warming, Donald Trump, and Rachmaninoff’s “Piano Concerto No 3”.

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Amy Tan was born in Oakland, California in 1952 to Chinese parents. Her first novel, “The Joy Luck Club”, was published in 1989 and later adapted into a major film. She has since published five other novels and two children’s books.

What’s your earliest memory?

The most vivid happened in the front yard of my first home in Fresno, California. My parents and older brother were on ladders picking fruit. One piece fell on my head, my brother laughed and I cried with indignation. I picked up the fruit and held it in my palm: a soft, fuzzy, golden ball.

Who are your heroes?

I admire many people for specific selfless deeds: Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, Peter Knights for founding nature organisation WildAid, Zheng Cao, a mezzo-soprano who healed others while struggling with cancer. Also, those who do compassionate work and stay anonymous. Many women fall into that category.

What was the last book that changed your thinking?

Bernd Heinrich’s Mind of the Raven. I became passionate about nature – noting changes over time and interactions with other elements in the ecosphere.

Which political figure, past or present, do you look up to?

Looking up is a dangerous perspective to take when it comes to people who are by their nature political, and thus required to make imperfect compromises.

In which time and place, other than your own, would you like to live?

A timeless place on an island in Raja Ampat, Indonesia, surrounded by marine life, and the writers and composers of the 1930s.

Who would paint your portrait?

Dear God, spare me.

What’s your theme tune?

Rachmaninoff’s “Piano Concerto No 3”. It surges with passion, victory, delusion and  annihilation – good for all occasions.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

Don’t let anyone tell you who you are. My mother told me that when I was young, and I absolutely follow it.

What’s currently bugging you?

The leader of the less free world, the US despot I refer to as “45”. I am venomous in my feelings towards him and his spineless, hand-wringing, salivating toadies.

What single thing would make your life better?

Having another president.

When were you happiest?

Despite my disgust with our current president, I am extremely happy now. Happiness is cumulative, not temporal.

In another life, what job might you have chosen?

Naturalist illustrator. I love wildlife and learning something new by noticing details and patterns. It is work that requires solitude. In all those ways, it is very much like writing.

Are we all doomed?

The greatest threat that could doom all of us is global warming. It is coming with certainty, unless changes are made. But I do not think about doom, and I do know what doom feels like. I was in the CNN newsroom in New York on 9/11 when the first tower was hit. The day before, my doctor called me about some peculiar test results and said I likely had brain or pancreatic cancer… 9/11 made me forget I had been told that. As it turned out, it was not World War Three, it was not cancer.

“Where The Past Begins: A Writer’s Memoir” is published by Fourth Estate

This article first appeared in the 08 February 2018 issue of the New Statesman, The new age of rivalry