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Amy Tan on her #MeToo moment: Now when someone comes to tickle me, I’m ready to attack

In an exclusive interview, Amy Tan, author of The Joy Luck Club and the recently released Where The Past Begins, spoke about fact and fiction, women’s empowerment, and about the importance of loss.

JaipurLitFest Updated: Jan 28, 2018 12:10 IST
Samreen Tungekar
Samreen Tungekar
Hindustan Tims, Jaipur
Amy Tan,Amy Tan #metoo,Amy Tan's books
“In the Donald Trump world, we’ve gone back in time. A minister admits that he has molested a lot of girls and they applaud him!” said author Amy Tan, author of The Joy Luck Club. (Raj K Raj/HT PHOTO)

Amy Tan has written six compelling books and recently released Where The Past Begins, a memoir. While much of her fiction draws from her life, one particularly chilling episode in The Bonesetter’s Daughter grew out of the author’s own experience of being molested.

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“My father was dying, my brother was already dead, and a youth minister had come to counsel me. I had this bad behaviour that was hurting my father more than the tumour in his brain, and that was making me cry. As I was sitting and crying, he (the minister) tickles me and says ‘Don’t cry’. I started refusing, and he pushes me on the bed and his hands go all over me.

“What’s worse is that he made me cry, which makes me vulnerable. He molested me, he touched my genitals and then he said, ‘You have been doing bad things so you shouldn’t be talking about this because people won’t believe you’. He rendered me powerless with that one line and made me feel like I had something to do with what had happened,” she said.

Tan’s books revolve around the complex relationship between mothers and daughters, and in her first book, The Joy Luck Club, she explored the stories of four sets of Chinese-American mothers and daughters. (Raj K Raj/HT PHOTO)

“What people don’t understand,” she goes on, “is that an episode like this has repercussions. Now, when someone comes to tickle me, I’m probably prepared to attack them. I’m so glad that people are coming out and talking about this.”

Does she believe times have changed? “Well, in the Donald Trump world, we’ve gone back in time. A minister admits that he has molested a lot of girls and they applaud him! I feel that even if the world may be regressive right now, women are not going back. We’re going to be defiant and keep fighting,” she said.

Tan’s books revolve around the complex relationship between mothers and daughters, and in her first book, The Joy Luck Club, she explored the stories of four sets of Chinese-American mothers and daughters. The author’s relationship with her mother was complex. She was already in high school when she learnt about her mother’s previous marriage and about the four children she had left behind in Shanghai.

Tan also lost her father and brother when she was 15, events that surely must affect the way she deals with other relationships.

“My father was a Baptist minister, and from him I learnt how to strongly believe in something that I want to believe in, and not because a book or a church says so. My mother also tried to inculcate beliefs in me but what I learnt to do is to look at people and make my own beliefs. I just like being around kind and compassionate people,” she said.

Tan wrote The Bonesetter’s Daughter when she lost two important people – her mother died of Alzheimer’s and her editor, Faith Sale, died of cancer. She believes loss teaches you about what is important. “When they were dying, there was this one question in my mind: What will I remember about them? The fact that they died two weeks apart lifted me into thinking about what I had shared with them. I had been with them both till the time they died, and when they died it was astonishing how unprotected I felt. Now, I had to protect myself,” she said.

Tan believes it is important to put your story out there. “It’s not just about the limitations that the government and society sets for you; it’s also about the limitations you set for yourself. You have to let your freedom of thought flow,” she said.

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First Published: Jan 28, 2018 12:10 IST