Two Kinds (or anything) by Amy Tan and Amy Tan's Netflix Documentary

Wednesday, January 5, 2022


Two Kinds by Amy Tan

Published by The Atlantic, February 1989 (later published in her first novel The Joy Luck Club).

Genre: Memoir essay

Format: I found a copy online.

When I happened upon this essay recently, I didn't know Netflix had just released a documentary about Amy Tan. Initiate rabbit hole. See Amy Tan: Unintended Memoir.  I love you, Amy Tan.


Family can be complicated. What passes from one generation to the next is biological and practiced, taught and untaught, purposeful, and accidental. Amy Tan lost her father as a teen and was raised by a mother who had survived abusive relationships and battled mental health issues moment-by-moment. In a family with mental health issues, what does love look like? Parts of a parent, the child can't live without . . . parts of a parent, the child must live without in order to survive. Many of Tan's works are inspired by the ways different generations harmonize and clash.

Though family can complicate life, it can also enrich. The focus of Tan's The Joy Luck Club is a dinner club made up of family and friends who would hang out after investing. This group made up Tan's extended family and became what will likely be one of the enduring legacies of her life. 

Amy Tan made a deal with God that if her mom survived what she thought was a heart attack, Tan would spend some time getting to know her mom. The heart attack ended up as a false alarm, and Tan's story sharing with her mom became one of the treasures of her life.


As someone from the APAC community who published a bestselling memoir in the 1980s and whose work was later developed into a film featuring dynamic Asian actors, Amy Tan has been lauded as a spokesperson for Asian American communities, a role she notes she never asked for. Tan's humility and commitment to doing exactly what she wants regardless of family and societal expectations makes her perhaps the best kind of spokesperson. 

Tan was a member of the literary rock group, the Rock Bottom Remainders, named after the books that bookstores have marked down so much that they're almost free. The band, frequenting stages at literary fests, included such members as Stephen King, Mitch Albom, and Barbara Kingsolver.

"Two Kinds" is a look at Tan's experience playing piano as a child and how playing piano helped her see that two different parts of her could exist hand-in-hand, complementary and necessary parts of the same tune.


"I often think I'm just dreaming this life." 
"What intruded was this idea that it had to be perfect."
"I learned a lot by simply being quiet and actually listening."


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