Texte d'Amy Tan


« I was nearly six by the time Kwan came to this country. We were waiting for her at the customs area of San Francisco Airport. Aunt Betty was also there. My mother was nervous and excited, talking non-stop : "Now listen, kids, she'll probably be shy, so don't jump all over her… And she'll be skinny as a beanpole, so I don't want any of you making fun of her…" When the customs official finally escorted Kwan into the lobby where we were waiting, Aunt Betty pointed and said, "That's her. I'm telling you that's her." Mom was shaking her head. This person looked like a strange old lady, short and chubby, not exactly the starving waif(1) Mom pictured or the glamorous teenage sister I had in mind. She was dressed in drab gray pyjamas, and her broad brown face was flanked by two thick braids. Kwan was anything but shy. She dropped her bag, fluttered her arms, and bellowed, "Hall-oo ! Hall-oo !" Still hooting and laughing, she jumped and squealed the way our new dog did whenever we let him out of the garage. This total stranger tumbled into Mom's arms, then Daddy Bob's. She grabbed Kevin and Tommy by the shoulders and shook them. When she saw me, she grew quiet, squatted on the lobby floor, and held out her arms. I tugged on my mother's skirt. "Is that my big sister ?" Mom said, "See, she has your father's same thick, black hair." I still have the picture Aunt Betty took : curly-haired Mom in a mohair suit, flashing a quirky smile ; our Italo-American stepfather, Bob, appearing stunned ; Kevin and Tommy mugging in cowboy hats ; a grinning Kwan with her hand on my shoulder ; and me in a frothy party dress, my finger stuck in my bawling mouth. I was crying because just moments before the photo was taken, Kwan had given me a present. It was a small cage of woven straw, which she pulled out of the wide sleeve of her coat and handed to me proudly. When I held it up to my eyes and peered between the webbing, I saw a six-legged monster, fresh-grass green, with saw-blade jaws, bulging eyes, and whips for eyebrows. I screamed and flung the cage away. At home, in the bedroom we shared from then on, Kwan hung the cage with the grasshopper, now missing one leg. As soon as night fell, the grasshopper began to chirp as loudly as a bicycle bell warning people to get out of the road. After that day, my life was never the same. To Mom, Kwan was a handy baby-sitter, willing, able, and free. Before my mother took off for an afternoon at the beauty parlor or a shopping trip with her gal pals, she'd tell me to stick to Kwan. "Be a good little sister and explain to her anything she doesn't understand. Promise ?" So every day after school, Kwan would latch on to me and tag along wherever I went. By the first grade, I became an expert on public humiliation and shame. Kwan asked so many dumb questions that all the neighborhood kids thought she had come from Mars. She'd say : "What M&M ?" "What ching gum ?" "Who this Popeys Sailor Man ? Why one eye gone ? He bandit ?" Even Kevin and Tommy laughed. With Kwan around, my mother could float guiltlessly through her honeymoon phase with Bob. When my teacher called Mom to say I was running a fever, it was Kwan who showed up at the nurse's office to take me home. When I fell while roller-skating, Kwan bandaged my elbows. She braided my hair. She packed lunches for Kevin, Tommy, and me. She tried to teach me to sing Chinese nursery songs. She soothed me when I lost a tooth. She ran the washcloth over my neck while I took my bath. I should have been grateful to Kwan. I could always depend on her. She liked nothing better than to be by my side. But instead, most of the time, I resented her for taking my mother's place. I remember the day it first occurred to me to get rid of Kwan. It was summer, a few months after she had arrived. Kwan, Kevin, Tommy, and I were sitting on our front lawn, waiting for something to happen. A couple of Kevin's friends sneaked to the side of our house and turned on the sprinkler system. My brothers and I heard the telltale spit and gurgle of water running into the lines, and we ran off just before a dozen sprinkler heads burst into spray. Kwan, however, simply stood there, getting soaked, marveling that so many springs had erupted out of the earth all at once. Kevin and his friends were howling with laughter. I shouted, "That's not nice". »
Amy Tan, The Hundred Secret Senses, lvy Books, 1995

1. Identify the six members of the narrator's family and explain how they are related to the narrator.
2. Where is the scene set at the beginning ? Why has the family gone there ?
3. What sort of person were they expecting to see ? What is she really like ? Answer the questions and justify by quoting from the text.
4. What did Kwan give the narrator ? How did the narrator react ? Why ?
5. How did the narrator's mother take advantage of Kwan's presence in the house ? Why was it particularly convenient for her ?
6. What were the narrator's feelings about Kwan's presence and role in her life ? What were the two reasons that generated these feelings ?
7. "With Kwan around, my mother could float guiltlessly through her honeymoon with Bob." What does this sentence reveal about the mother-daughter relationship as the narrator now sees it ?
8. Read the last paragraph. Sum up in your own words what happened in the garden. How did the narrator react ?
9. Translate from "l remember the day…" to "…turned on the sprinkler system."
Traitez l'un des deux sujets en 300 mots (indiquez le nombre de mots).
1. Imagine a conversation between the mother, Kwan and the children after the scene in the garden.
2. Adapting to a new life is not always easy. Would you be prepared to go and live in a foreign country ?
(1)Waif : a homeless, friendless or neglected child.


1. The six members of the narrator's family are:
  • The narrator's mother and stepfather: Bob;
  • The narrator's aunt: Betty;
  • The narrator's brothers: Kevin and Tommy;
  • The narrator's big sister: Kwan.
2. At the beginning, the scene is set in the customs area at San Francisco airport where the family has come to fetch and welcome the narrator's big sister, Kwan.
3. They expected to see a young, very slim, charming but shy teenage girl.
  • "She'll probably be shy… And she'll be skinny as a beanpole."
In fact, she didn't look like what they had in mind. She looked strange and was badly dressed. She looked like an old lady. She was short and plump, very talkative and at ease.
  • "…looked like an old strange lady, short and chubby, not exactly the starving waif Mom pictured or the glamorous teenage sister I had in mind."
  • "She was dressed in drab gray pyjamas."
  • "Kwan was anything but shy."
  • "… still hooting and laughing, she jumped and squealed."
4. Kwan gave the narrator a small cage of wooden straw with a grasshopper in it. The narrator was scared by the animal which looked like a menacing monster to her and as a result she threw the present and started to cry.
5.  The mother takes advantage of Kwan's presence to alleviate her mother's duties and to make the most of her free time and devote herself to her new husband, Bob as if they were on a honeymoon. Kwan plays the role of a baby-sitter and even takes the role of the narrator's mother; she becomes a surrogate mother for the narrator.
6. The narrator resented Kwan's presence and the role she played because she felt she was abandoned by her mother. Because of Kwan's behaviour, which she finds stupid, she also often felt embarrassed and ashamed.
7. The sentence reveals that the narrator was not pleased with the new situation at all. We may think the relationship between the narrator and her mother became tense and worsened with time. They were not as close as they probably were before Kwan arrived since the mother didn't take care of her daughter any longer.
8. The children were all sitting on the front lawn when two of Kevin's friends came unnoticed onto the property and turned the water on, consequently the sprinklers started to water the lawn.
Everybody had run away before getting wet as they had heard the sound of the water running in the system before it started, except Kwan who stayed on the lawn and who got soaked to the skin.
9. Je me souviens du jour où, pour la première fois, il me vint à l'esprit de me débarrasser de Kwan. C'était l'été, quelques mois après son arrivée/ sa venue/ après qu'elle fut arrivée. Kwan, Kevin, Tommy et moi étions assis sur la pelouse devant la maison attendant que quelque chose se passe / arrive. Deux amis de Kevin se faufilèrent près de la maison et mirent le système d'arrosage automatique en marche/ en route.
1. Ne pas oublier de présenter la travail sous la forme d'un dialogue (guillemets, changement de ligne chaque fois qu'un des protagonistes prend la parole, éventuel passage narratif quant à l'attitude ou à la réaction de tel ou tel personnage.) Compte-tenu des sentiments du narrateur envers Kwan, sa réaction sera très certainement plus amusée que celle des autres.
2. At first, I would like to say that leaving one's home-country is quite a difficult decision to take whatever the reason. There would probably be many causes if I had to do so. Perhaps one of them would be to follow the person I love. Another reason would be to escape economic woes or religious persecution in my native country or even to apply for political asylum as it is often the case for many immigrants. The boring routine of everyday life could be another reason which could account for my desire to emigrate to another country.
For all these different reasons, I think I would feel a strong wish to break away from my roots and my country and I would feel like starting anew and trying to adapt to another country.
I would certainly go and settle in a land where people share about the same culture and values as mine so it would be easier to fit in there. I do not have a precise country in mind but it would certainly be a western country.
Of course I would miss a few things and it would be painful and hard to give up my way of living and to abandon my family surrounding. France is the place where I have my roots. Furthermore, I would certainly miss my relatives and my friends.
Moreover, once in a new country, I would have to adapt to new customs. At first, I would certainly have difficulties in starting from scratch. I would be torn between two cultures and two different ways of thinking. Anyway, before taking such a decision it is worth weighing up all the pros and cons. But I think that in spite of all the difficulties I might encounter, I would be ready to take the decision if I had to.