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Recommended Fiction: The Kitchen God's Wife by Amy Tan

by Pamela Tarajcak on 2023-02-23T13:53:00-05:00 | 0 Comments

“Whenever my mother talks to me, she begins the conversation as if we were already in the middle of an argument. 

“’Pearl-ah, have to go, no choice.’ my mother said when she phoned last week. After several minutes I learned the reason for her call: Auntie Helen was inviting the whole family to my cousin Bao-bao's engagement party.  

“’The whole family’ means the Kwongs and the Louies.  The Kwongs are Auntie Helen, Uncle Henry, Mary, Frank, and Bao-bao. And these days ‘the Louies’ really refers only to my mother and me, since my father is dead and my brother, Samuel, lives in New Jersey.  We’ve been known as ‘the whole family’ for as long as I can remember, even though the Kwongs aren’t related to us by blood, just by marriage; Auntie Helen’s first husband was my mother’s brother, who died long before I was born.”  (1)

Cover ArtThe Kitchen God's Wife by Amy Tan
Call Number: FIC TANA (Steubenville)
ISBN: 9780399135781
Publication Date: 1991-06-17
Pages: 369

Pearl and her mother, Winnie, have always had a contentious relationship brought on by Auntie Helen’s pride in her “side” of the family.  Auntie Helen has always lorded something over Pearl's mother which stresses both of them out.  But Pearl’s mother and Auntie Helen aren't’ sharing.  Until one day, Pearl and her mother have a serious heart to heart and explain what exactly happened in the past.  It turns out that Helen and Winnie are even less related than originally thought.  Winnie was married to this awfully abusive man Wen Fu.  Winnie tried to escape but was tossed in prison on the charge of spousal abandonment.  Auntie Helen tried to help Winnie but does it in such a condescending way.  Through this tale, Pearl learns more about her mother. 

Amy Tan is a master of her craft but basically writes about one thing, intergenerational trauma.  Most of her Chinese immigrant mothers are traumatized and conflict with their unaffected Americanized daughters.  This book is no different.  Though, I feel that last year’s recommendation of Joy Luck Club is better, the Kitchen God’s Wife may be a good introduction to Tan’s writing.  It’s a bit less confusing and has a much more languid pace than the Joy Luck Club. The characters are slightly less defined though.  Wen Fu is just plain villainous and has no redeemable qualities.  If Winnie wasn’t living in such a structurally misogynistic culture as pre-Revolutionary China, there would be no way that a court would side with him.  But perhaps that was Tan’s reason for having him be so awful, was to show how structurally misogynistic that period of Chinese history was.  The rest of the characters except for Winnie and Pearl are pretty bland and one note.  The only one that stands out is Aunt Helen, but the reasons why she emotionally blackmails Winnie never seems clear enough to understand.  And of course, with the content material, all the trigger warnings. 

This book is an introduction to a master’s craft but may not be for everyone. 


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