Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Kitchen God's Wife - Amy Tan

After reading The Joy Luck Club, it is clear that Amy Tan does Asian mother-daughter relationships like no other. So, I was happy to pick up her second novel, The Kitchen God's Wife, and find that she continued with the theme. The book initially takes place in the Bay Area, and focuses on Pearl, the daughter of Chinese immigrant, Winnie. Pearl is suffering from MS, but has not yet told her mother, for fear of worrying her unnecessarily. Winnie, on the other hand, has secrets of her own - about her past in China, a former husband, other children, and a life she thought she left behind decades ago. But, when meddling Aunt Helen, who holds both womens' secrets, decides it is time for mother and daughter to come clean, Winnie begins to tell her story. The remainder of the novel takes the reader back to China to learn about Winnie's difficult beginnings where tragedy upon tragedy mount, and just when you think things couldn't get any worse, of course they do. I found myself incredibly annoyed with the portrayal of children in this novel - as selfish, demanding creatures with no manners - but as the book continued I believe this was intentional on Tan's part - a reminder the subsequent generations are often ignorant of the struggles their mother's have gone through on their behalf, and a window into how their behavior might be altered if they understood sacrifces that had been made for them. The plot does have the depressing effect I experienced earlier this month while reading Push, given that one bad thing after another happens. But, unlike Push, I found this book well-written, the plot and characters engaging, and the reflection of the characters on their experience particularly valuable. Of course, one could also chalk it up to my ability to relate to Tan's characters and families more than I could related to those of Precious. While difficult to get through at times, an emotionally worthwhile read.

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