Sometimes in life, it is easy to judge a person and situation without first understanding all of the facts. In The Hundred Secret Senses, a romance and mystery novel, Amy Tan tells the story of Olivia and her half-sister Kwan – how they grow up together and help each other, while also depicting Kwan’s former life in China, and Olivia’s relationship with her love, Simon. The novel has two main characters, Kwan and Olivia. Kwan and Olivia share the same father, but after his death, Kwan moves to California to live with Olivia’s family.
Kwan is extremely annoying, and her broken English doesn’t help in the slightest, yet she cares deeply about those around her and is very loyal. Throughout the novel, Olivia has a lack of understanding towards Kwan and other people in her life that she cares about. She seems to misunderstand the motives of people, which is why she is usually upset and contemplative. Her personality is selfish, thinking that the world is against her, yet this mindset is what creates the complex, yet beautiful story. Olivia, the main character, is weakened by her relationships with those around her, especially Kwan and Simon.
She is saddened and confused at her sister’s kind actions towards her, when she is only ungrateful and annoyed of her. She even admits to it by saying “I didn’t know how much she hungered for love, any kind. Sweet love didn’t last, and it was too hard to find. But rotten love - there was plenty to fill the hollow. So that’s what she grew accustomed to, that’s what she took as soon as it came back. ” Olivia has to overcome her anger towards not only Kwan, but also her husband, Simon. Because Simon’s girlfriend before Olivia died, Simon is incredibly distraught, and he even talks about her as if she were still alive.
Olivia becomes exceedingly jealous and it even causes her to want to divorce him later in their marriage. During Olivia’s discussion with Kwan about a possible divorce, she says “Sure I loved him - too much. And he loved me, only not enough. I just want someone who thinks I'm number one in his life. I'm not willing to accept emotional scraps anymore. ” The story begins with Kwan moving to California. Olivia, of course, is extremely upset. Not only because Kwan seems to be taking her mother’s place, but because she has to endure Kwan’s ridiculous stories each night about her childhood.
As the story continues, Olivia goes on to describe how she met her husband, Simon, and how his “girlfriend” Elza seems to be intruding on their relationship. Kwan is constant throughout the novel, as she is always loyal, speaking in her broken English, and always talking about her “yin eyes” and how the “yin people” are constantly speaking to her. The title, The Hundred Secret Senses, is incredibly significant, as Olivia’s jealousies and Kwan’s “yin eyes” often suspect things about people without firsthand evidence. Kwan refers to this ability to suspect and understand as a “secret sense. Near the end of the novel, Olivia, Simon and Kwan visit China, and it is there that the most profound secrets are revealed.
Olivia doesn’t overcome her jealousy through time or through Simon’s ability to finally let go of Elza, but rather through her understanding of why certain people were in her life, and how they have not threatened her, but have only tried to help her. The mixing of myth, and different emotions is what makes Amy Tan’s novel so profound. Amy Tan’s The Hundred Secret Senses, was filled with many surprises and philosophies that create new perspectives and meanings on life.
This book particularly affected me through its psychological aspects, especially through the character of Olivia. It turns out that the motives of those around her were the exact opposite of what she first believed them to be, and in turn, she helped me to realize that in my own life. The Hundred Secret Senses is perfect for anyone who loves the comparison of Eastern and Western cultures, combined with every possible human emotion and myth. I would definitely recommend this book to someone, for it truly touched my heart.