Times Book Award for her first book, The Joy Luck Club, Tan has not been considered as a mainstream American writer (luminarium, barclayagency.com). Instead, she has been acclaimed as the Asian American role model by community organizations despite her claim that her creations are not social statements but simply literature that talks about human connectedness (Salon, 1995). Perhaps in her sub-consciousness, Tan finds her Chinese identity too powerful to be discarded even if she tries to. Instead, she weaves the Oriental spiritual ideas as well as the symbols and character traits from China in her books that are mainly set in America. Olivia, the protagonist of her novel, The Hundred Secret Senses (1995), is Tan's alter ego, trying to discard her Chinese identity and assimilate with the mainstream American culture but finally reconciling to her social identity that hinges on finding her life's meaning through spirituality. Like Olivia, Tan is a Chinese-American and suffers from the conflict of this dual identity. Yet, she knows that neither she nor Olivia can never discard their Chinese identity completely. To make Olivia recognize this, Tan uses Chinese symbols and ideas that draw Olivia towards China. She harps on animal instincts and symbols from Chinese lives, tempered with a western view of these, that Olivia finds interesting.
In t In the novel, The Hundred Secret Senses, Olivia is born of an American mother and Chinese father. At the age of six, she comes to know of her so-long undisclosed Chinese sister. To add to her woes, her father's death-bed wish is to get his elder daughter, Kwan, over to America. After the father's death, the 18-year old Kwan joins the reluctant American step-family and begins on an intense relationship with them, particularly with the much-younger Olivia, whom she calls "Libby-ah", almost like the nation of "Muammar Qaddafi". Kwan does all to please her baby sister, Olivia, who has little to reciprocate. On the other hand, Olivia is embarrassed over her half-sister's mis-pronunciations, superstitions, endless queries, immense optimism in life and claim to possess "yin" eyes, with which she can see the ghosts. The two half-sisters grow up with the tension between them unresolved. The novel, written in first person through the voice of the 30-year old photographer, Olivia, who is still searching for a meaningful life, begins with these lines,
"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.
'Libby-ah,' she'll say to me. 'Guess who I see yesterday, you guess.' And I don't have to guess that she's talking about someone dead." (Tan, 1995, p3)
The relationship between the half-sisters grows increasingly complex, with Olivia suffering from guilt for treating Kwan badly yet not hesitating to be sarcastic over her ghost stories or to send her to an asylum. The novel is a reflection not only of human bonding and relationships but also a tussle between cultures and the conflict between Orientalism and Occidentalism, between optimism and skepticism (Tan, Amy, The Hundred Secret Senses, Putnam, 1995).
Kwan, on the other hand, is always loyal to Olivia and keeps talking of characters from her previous life -warlords.