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Posts Tagged ‘Amy Tan’

KitchenGodsWife-AmyTan2Had you asked me if I were interested in reading the story of a Chinese woman growing up in China in the late 20’s through the end of World War II, now living in California, and her relationships with family, I probably would have said `no.’ Had you told me the author was Amy Tan, who wrote The Joy Luck Club, I would have immediately changed my answer.

I am so impressed with how Ms. Tan immediately pulls you into her story; it seems so simply written. I don’t know how she does it, but I am engrossed from the first page. Pearl, the American born daughter of Winnie Louie, who grew up in China, begins the tale in the first person. She is observing her mother’s and aunties’ behaviors, their reliance on custom and tradition, and its seeming irrelevance to current day life. She doesn’t really understand her mother and is critical of her negativity and superstitions. They’ve had a rift between them since the death of Jimmy, Pearl’s father, when she was fourteen.

What becomes apparent in the first few chapters is that there are many secrets being kept by both Winnie and Pearl. But even deeper secrets are kept by Winnie and longtime friend, Helen …  secrets that are bound by fear, pain, dreadful memories, and the need to follow traditional Chinese customs. Believing she may be dying, Helen threatens to reveal the secrets kept for over 50 years and free herself of the burden. For Winnie, this cannot happen, and so, with current day family relationships established, the story switches to Winnie becoming the narrator and looking back at the past. She will be the one to at long last reveal the secrets, not Helen.

She begins her story when a child of six in China, when her beloved mother, and fifth wife to her father, disappears, and how Winnie’s upbringing falls to Old Aunt and New Aunt and their deeply traditional views. As in The Joy Luck Club, the story is not only about the characters, but about a culture and a country of which I suspect most of us know little. As Winnie tells her story, we learn about the critical qualities of politeness, respect and saving face, the role luck – or belief in it – plays  in people’s lives, and the inability to escape a traditional marriage, no matter how abusive.

The unfolding of Winnie’s life, her dangerous marriage, the loss of her children, the toll taken by war, all are answering the questions that her daughter has about her mother and why she is the way she is. This would be a deeply moving story of one woman’s life and her survival against enormous odds in any culture, but in The Kitchen God’s Wife, we also learn about China and a span of time and series of events that changed the country and its residents forever.

Ms. Tan brings it all together in the final chapters, a satisfying conclusion, and one which had me go back and read Pearl’s chapters a second time. Highly recommended.

 

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Probably the answer to that is `yes,’ but when I think about it being books, my head just seems to automatically move from side to side … no. We can’t.

Of course, I say this in my own defense, as well might you, in the face of Tuesday’s experience. I went to vote. Our town votes in the local library. There are no services for that day, but one can still roam about and  peruse the shelves. Well, the shelves I perused were the ones in front of the check-out desk which are always filled with used/unwanted/donated books for sale. $1.00 for hardcover, $.50 for paperback.

I asked one of the ladies helping out with voting if I could just leave the librarian some money for a few books. Of course I could, just no borrowing from the main shelves. (I bet they’re all in cahoots, I thought, conspiring to entice helpless readers.) I didn’t have change, so left a bigger bill which would cover the books and a small donation to the library along with a note.

I found another book by Amy Tan, The Kitchen God’s Wife, her next after her first big success. The Joy Luck Club. That seemed like a good bet. And then I found Toni Morrison’s latest novel, Paradise, a mystery about some evil goings-on in a convent outside a small Oklahoma town. Now that sounded interesting! And then in paperback, The Power of Silence, a later book by Carlos Castaneda, and also The Secret by Rhonda Byrne … the book. (I’ve only read the web site.) What a tasty little gathering of reads for such a pittance.

Now, that fortune cookie … technically, it belonged to my friend as I had already opened and eaten my cookie. Half of it was good advice … the generosity part. The perfection part? Well, sometimes that’s just a way to make ourselves crazy, but hey, it’s only a thought in a cellophane-wrapped, folder-over piece of fried dough, right? I have something more on my mind … I’m stalking through the freshly vacated rooms of the convent with men seeking justice in Paradise.

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