Thursday, January 6, 2011
Book Review of the Kitchen God's Wife by Amy Tan
Author Name: Amy Tan
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Type of book: Young adult? (Not sure if schools use this book for curriculum) Adult, fantasy China, historical, modern
Year it was published: 1991
From amazon: " Fans of Tan's Joy Luck Club (Putnam, 1989) will love her powerful second novel. Here she creates an absorbing story about the lives of a Chinese mother and her adult American-born daughter. Pressured to reveal to the young woman her secret past in war-torn China in the 1940s, Winnie weaves an unbelievable account of a childhood of loneliness and abandonment and a young adulthood marred by a nightmarish arranged marriage. Winnie survives her many ordeals because of the friendship and strength of her female friends, the love of her second husband, and her own steadfast courage and endurance. At the conclusion, her secrets are uncovered and she shares a trust/love relationship with her daughter, Pearl, that was missing from both their lives. Some YAs may find the beginning a bit slow, but this beautifully written, heartrending, sometimes violent story with strong characterization will captivate their interest to the very last page."
Winnie: I cannot believe that so many tragedies have happened to only one person. (The disappearance of a mother, being torn from family to live with other family members and treated like a Cinderella, living with a man who is bad to you, war, involved with a Chinese-American man and eventually becoming married to him, etc.) Despite the bevy of tragedies that befell her, I had a hard time trying to feel sorry for her or trying to sympathize with her. She tends to be unsympathetic to other characters as well and is more of a my way or the highway person. She contradicts herself a lot, like at one instance she describes her mother's appearance, and then later on mentions that it might not be the way her mother looked. (If you're not sure, why bother spending the pages describing your mother's appearance if you don't remember it?)
Pearl: Despite her being the main character, she is not very interesting. Just like all of Amy's heroines she's married to an American man and tends to be neurotic. Her only purpose is to sit and listen to her mother's unbelievable and Mary-Suish story about her past.
Other characters: Although there are other characters in the story, besides Winnie's first husband, Wen Fu few deserve mention. There is literally nothing positive about Wen Fu once he marries Winnie and the marriage quickly goes downhill. Also, from the way she describes him, how do other people and women find him attractive? And wouldn't the cheating and whatnot get back to him eventually so no one would want to be with Wen Fu?
Helen, Winnie's "best friend" is portrayed as being wrong but at the same time lucky when she is wrong. There is interest in exploring the friendship between the two, but I feel that the friendship was more of a necessity than affection. In the end they are friends just because.
As always, I have difficulty in coming up with a lesson to be learned from this book. Unfortunately I don't know the real story of kitchen god's wife. (What I mean, not Winnie's story but an actual mythology about it.) So I can't say how the story is changed or used in bad ways. I'm not focused on big picture in this or other stories. I'm more focused on details and the way plot and whatnot is handled.
Plot: I think it would help this story if the instead of an overly 400+ page single person narrative, this would be broken into different parts and different days as well questions that Pearl asks her mother. It would have been nice to get Pearl's input and whatnot on her mother's stories.
She was born in Oakland California in 1952, lived in Switzerland, returned to America and married a lawyer. There is a claim that I found that she used to go to a psychiatrist who several times fell asleep while listening to her, so she wrote a novel dealing with mother-daughter relationships. Her first novel is called The Joy luck club. Her other novels were titled Hundred Secret Senses, The Kitchen God's wife, Bonesetter's Daughter, and Saving Fish From Drowning. She is married to an American by the name of Louis DeMattei who was a lawyer.
Opinion: When you compare this book to Joy Luck Club, it is a much better story, although it is about the same thing, this time in detail. In someways the writing tends to be addictive as in too much chocolate or drug addiction. (Actually, addiction, no matter over what is a bad thing.) I don't think the book is well researched and despite the historical setting, (1930s and 1940s of China,) one can obviously tell that Amy Tan's story is based more on hearsay or mother's stories than actual history.
1 out of 5
(0: Stay away unless a masochist 1: Good for insomnia 2: Horrible but readable; 3: Readable and quickly forgettable, 4: Good, enjoyable 5: Buy it, keep it and never let it go.)